Thursday – St. Chely d’Aubrac to St. Côme d’Olt

David and I shared our 3-person room at the municipal gîte in St. Chely with a young man from South Korea, Sun Han, whom we have encountered several times before along the way. He was a late arrival to the gite but, as luck would have it, was able to obtain a room. His story is an interesting one, and I’ll try to find time to write a bit about it as a separate posting.

Anyway, after a typical gîte breakfast (augmented this time with yogurt and granola), we packed up and left for the trail. Along the way we stopped to buy a sandwich and piece of fruit, anticipating limited opportunities to purchase food along the way.

A group of six or so women were there ahead of us, completing their purchases, and we encountered them later along the trail — first at a coffee break, and then eating their sandwiches in a clearing. One of them, whose English was good, said they were from Le Puy. Based on their small packs, we speculated they might be shipping their packs rather than carrying them.

The morning weather was misty and cool — a continuation of what we had been seeing the past few days. The hills around St Chely d’Aubrac were shrouded in mist and fog, and the gray skies were low.

St. Chely, though small, gives the appearance of having substantial resources available. The church, e.g., was richly decorated, there are many hotels, bars, restaurants, and the homes were well cared for and had been updated with new doors and windows in many cases.

Earlier on our trip, we had encountered a man named Guy who told us that his maternal grandmother’s home was high on a hill at the entrance to St. Chely. He went on to say that the family had sold the property a generation ago, but that his permanent home is still in the region even though he works in Paris (several hours away by train or car). Interesting to speculate what his work may be and why he remains anchored to the Aubrac region of France.

Bridge leading out of St. Chely.

St. Chely seen from above as we were leaving.

Once we had climbed out of the small valley in which St. Chely lies, we entered the district of Cantal. We noted that the blue skies were visible, but tried not to get our hopes up.

There are abundant forests and grazing lands in Cantal, as this countryside view shows.

This forest scene seemed especially beautiful.

The cows are a different color in Cantal, and a different shape, but still handsome.

We did encounter some significant muddy stretches, but nothing like earlier in the week — the soil seems to be better drained, and the trails do not always serve as natural culverts for the hillside water. 🙂

This image shows our lodgings for the evening. It’s a convent on the edge of St. Come d’Olt that has been converted into a conference center and pilgrims lodging. As you can see from the skies, the weather has improved dramatically, and so, accordingly, have our spirits.

Our total distance today was just over 10 miles, along dry paths, gentle hills, and some paved roads. Total flights climbed (a measure of the intensity of our trail) were 37, a modest level. The day of rest and the prescribed meds have definitely been helpful, and I look forward to somewhat longer walk (about 21 km) to Estaing, in the valley of the Lot river.

Linguistic footnote: ‘Olt’, as in the name of the town we are staying in tonight, is the name of the Lot river in the ancient regional language, Occitane.

Wednesday – Nasbinals

We have declared today a day of recuperation for me – rest, visit to the doctor, taxis instead of on foot.

Our taxi picked us up as arranged at 8:30. Lovely ride – ~ 15 minutes through rolling, rugged terrain to Nasbinals. Saw a doctor at the small health center at Nasbinals. My condition is only a bad cold. He prescribed pain reliever, nasal spray (with prednisone), and a cough management med for evening/night. Charge for the visit: 25 €. Next we walked a short way to the pharmacy, where everything went fine. 17 € to fill the three scripts. The pharmacist was distracted from time to time by her cat, who seemed interested in seeing the visitor to the shop.

We repaired to a café, where I took the initial dose of my medications and enjoyed coffee, pain au chocolat, and Wifi. While there, we were reminded by a notice at the cash register that WiFi is not everything:

The parish church in Nasbinals is a handsome Romanesque structure at the center of town. It is constructed of granite and basalt, the abundant local stone, in the 11th & 12th centuries.

Inside, there are appealing painted wood sculptures in a simple, sturdy style. I especially like this one of Joseph with the boy Jesus:

And this one of the ubiquitous St. Jacques

There was also a beautiful wood panel depicting the baptism of Jesus:

The next stop on Steve’s R&R tour of the Aubrac was lunch at a hotel restaurant on the town square. Our meal offered traditional foods of the region, including salade d’Aubrac, beef chunks in red wine sauce, aligot, regional cheeses, and choice of dessert. Delicious!

We then hired a taxi for the next leg of our journey, from Nasbinals to St. Chely d’Aubrac, where we will be spending the night. We have accommodation in the municipal gîte, sponsored by the Mayor’s office and operated by the tourism office. For the trip, we were pleased to find the same driver who had brought us to Nasbinals in the morning. Our drive took us through beautiful (if wet — it’s still raining!) countryside and then down a steep grade into town.

Here’s the view from our room:

And the street outside:

Though we keep hoping for relief from the rain, the forecast calls for more of the same, perhaps with some relief on Friday. We’ll see. We still have a long way to go!

Tuesday – Aumont-Aubrac to Les Quatre Chemins

Our course took us across the beautiful Aubrac plateau. We could sense the richness of the Margeride give way to a more austere, rocky landscape. We still saw rolling hills and pine forests, but now the large Aubrac cows and bulls (large and handsome) were every.where. We saw many calves, as well. The genet (broom plant) was in brilliant yellow bloom everywhere.

For us, it was hard to appreciate the beauty of the countryside because our entire walk was made in constant drizzle to light rain.

Moreover, we anticipated being able to find a sandwich along the trail, but the places we stopped were not open.

It appeared to have been raining in the area for many days, as the low portions of the trail were not only rutted but decidedly muddy. Along this way, the chemin appears to exist as a right of way over farm fields. While the track is wide, it is bounded on both sides by barbed wire, to confine the cattle. This rather narrow corridor limited our ability to detour around the mud at critical points. On the good side, we traversed several bridges spanning large muddy patches. Happily, the terrain was not as rugged as the past several days.

At some point about mid-day, I began to notice decided fatigue and a troublesome cough originating in my chest. As the day went on, these symptoms became worse, and a couple of times I had to rest on a rock before climbing a gentle rise on the trail. This was was scheduled to be a longer day (25 km), but after only about 60% of the way, I was too tired to continue.

Happily, a gîte appeared on the trail at just the right moment. We stopped for lunch, considered the matter, and decided to cancel our reservation at Nasbinals and stay the night at Les Gentianes in the hamlet of Les Quatres Chemins, about 13 km from Nasbinals. The proprietor arranged for a taxi pick-up for us in the morning. I went to bed and took a 2-hour nap, which revived me somewhat, although the coughing and sniffles persisted.

About 25 people were staying at Les Gentianes, some in the gîte and others, like us, in the chambres d’hôtes. We were served an excellent dinner – salade d’aubrac, saucisse, aligot, green beans, and tarte au fruits for dessert.

We met a young woman from Leipzig whose English was good. She joined our area of the table “so that she could hear a language she could understand” (English, that is, not French). She was walking about 10 km a day, about half our pace, and was dedicating 6 weeks to the journey. We also caught up with Dorothea, from Ireland, walking the camino again at age 82, and Susanne, a Quebecoise, both of whom we had first met at our first night on the chemin at Montbonnet.

Although sunset suggested less rain and more sun tomorrow, the night was cool and damp, our clothes did not dry overnight, and we awoke to cool drizzle.

Friday – Montbonnet to Monistrol d’Allier

We left our gîte in Montbonnet (l’Escole) about 8 am after what I am learning is the standard petite déjeuner at stages on the pilgrimage route: bread, butter, jam (broadly interpreted – includes Nutella & caramel spread in addition to more traditional examples), juice, coffee/tea/cocoa. This time the board included fresh fruit and a local cheese as well. We helped ourselves, cleaned up, and were in our way. Here’s a shot of the yard taken as we were leaving:

Our route to Monistrol d’Allier took us through farming country and woodlands, over the ridge of a line of hills that marks the valley of the Ailler, down into that valley at St. Privat d’Allier, back up the hills on the other side of the valley, then down again to Monistrol d’allier.

I expected this to be hilly and involve steep, prolonged ascents and descents. It was. According to the Health app on my iPhone, which tracks flights of stairs climbed, on Friday I climbed a total of 42 flights @ ~10′ per flight. Total distance for the day was ~10.2 miles.

Showing the mist hanging in the valleys as we left Montbonnet.

Patchwork of fields against the hills.

Muddy track due to frequent rains (which we have missed so far)

Cows grazing on the hillsides as we approach St. Privat d’Allier, where we stopped for a pause café. (Still hoping to see a group shot someone took and promised to forward.)

Pilgrims at the village of Roche Gude, with the castle, tower, and chapel in the background.

Tower, with grazing donkeys in the hillside.

Interior of small family chapel adjacent to the tower.

View from Roche Gude of the Valley of the Allier near Monistrol.

Famous Eiffel Bridge at Monistrol.

Thursday – Leaving Le Puy en Velay

We spent the night at the relais du pèlerins gîte, immediately across the street from the house Sage rented last summer. In the morning, after a quick petite déjeuner, we walked 5 minutes to the cathedral for the traditional Pilgrim mass and blessing, which had begun a few minutes before we arrived. Afterward, the priest spoke to the group (40-50 people), of whom the bulk were from France, but with Asia, Australia, North America, and elsewhere in Europe also represented. We were given a prayer of blessing to carry with us … and then we were dismissed to begin our walks.

View of Le Puy-en-Velay as we began our walk.

The two of us about to set out.

View back up the Cathedral steps after descending.

Morning fog over the city, shrouding the cathedral and statue of Mary

A reminder of how far it is to Compostela

Countryside above Le Puy.

Lyon to Le Puy en Velay

We spent Tuesday morning walking leisurely around Lyon near the Part Dieu station. We caught a direct train from Lyon to Le Puy. Interestingly, a direct train was not available in this route last year due to work on the tracks near Le Puy.

The track goes west from Lyon to St. Étienne, then generally follows the valley of the upper Loire towards Le Puy. Total trip was about 2:15, with 6-10 stops along the way. The scenery is spectacular, with many tunnels and rapids within the course of the river.

Our train had many passengers who were planning on beginning their walk of the Camino either Wednesday or Thursday.

We walked from the Le Puy train station to our hotel in the southwest edge of the city center.

In Lyon

We’ve checked into our hotel, washed our clothes, and ourselves, and are about to go exploring and then out for dinner.

We took the Metro from the Part-Dieu area to the old city of Lyon. It’s a quaint area, situated at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, with much evidence of the city’s past as a silk manufacturing center and, of course, many traditional restaurants.

View of the street from our restaurant in the city quarter of Lyon

The Lyon Cathedral is dedicated to John the Baptist and dates from 1180.

West front of Lyon Cathedral

Carved wood piece from Lyon Cathedral. The panels on the doors in the center appear to depict the list of John the Baptist

The pilgrim trail that runs from Geneva to Le Puy passes through Lyon in the old city, and we saw evidence of it on the path we took last night.

Although David took a nap in the afternoon, I was able to resist the temptation. I woke this morning at about 6:30, after turning in about 10:00 last night. In other words, minimal sleep disruption from jet lag (so far!).

This afternoon, we take the train from Lyon to Le Puy. We’ll have the rest of the day in Le Puy plus all of tomorrow. On Thursday, we begin our walk.

Waiting for the train …

Since our flight from O’Hare was not only on time, but actually about 30 min early, we have time on our hands waiting for our train to Lyon, where we’ll spend the night.

Our time has been filled in part by an evacuation of the train station, which lasted about 15 minutes. All very even-tempered, but definitely in earnest. Evidently someone had discovered an unattended package, leading to an investigation. As it turned out, there was nothing sinister going on.

After a coffee break, we’re now waiting for our train – due to arrive in about 20 minutes. As you can see, we’re not the only ones waiting.