Wandering excites the senses and creates a myriad of experiences. Emotive, exciting & reflective experiences that shape who we are…
For quite some time I’d entertained the idea of buying a house in or around the Dordogne region of France.
I’d spent countless hours scouring the pages of Rightmove bookmarking properties, yet when I finally arrived, it simply didn’t feel ‘right’,
The town of Brive la Galliarde was exceptionally beautiful, as was the apartment I rented. It’s circular staircase snaked upward through the centre of the building, stone steps worn from the imprint of many footsteps that tread upon them over many years, or possibly centuries.
A Juliet balcony overhung the cobblestone street that carved its way through buildings dating back to the 17th century. It was historically mesmerizing: but again, I didn’t feel it.
However rather than wallow in the disappointment, I embraced the fact that I was meant to come here and make the realization: this is simply not my place.
And that’s okay.
Yet still my love affair with France continues: it’s language, it’s people and it’s culture pull me into its melodic web.
And that sentiment shone brightly yesterday when I stopped at a street cafe for a beer after a long walk to the hostel.
Just as I took my first sip, a group of people approached my table and asked me something in french. Obviously not understanding their quickly spoken words, yet as I’d perfected my short, french spiel, l happily blurted: ‘… ah je suis australien, et je ne parle en petit peu Français, parlez plus lentiment, s’il vous plait.
Basically saying, but probably butchering their beautiful language: ‘I’m sorry I only speak a little french, could you please speak slowly’.
There were no raised eyebrows or sly sniggers, quite the contrary. They graciously responded by speaking perfect English with oh so sexy accents.
Funnily enough, after exchanging stories bestowing them with more of my childlike french, they said when I spoke french, for them, I soundly sexy!!! Too many Pernods perhaps?
What I found most humbling during my time with these lovely people was their kindness and willingness to help me with my french. I was also extremely touched by their praise for my apparent bravery at travelling solo, however I never feel my solo travels are brave.
It’s interesting to see yourself through someone else’s eyes: I have never labelled myself as being brave – ah c’est la vie.
So as dusk begins to ascend upon my travels and my time in Europe draws to a close, I’m humbled as to where I’ve left my footprint.
I’m grateful for where I’ve been, who I’ve met and what I’ve achieved.
So for now, I’ll spend my last few days in France enjoying the company of an old friend.
And the next chapter? That remains unwritten…
Walking along paths framed by wheat fields, climbing across majestic mountains and traversing through forests whilst being stalked by horses was an experience I’ll never forget.
And already, I deeply miss walking the Camino.
I miss the feeling of knowing the morning heralded another day of simply being in the present. Another day of simply placing one foot in front of another, hour after hour. It was so humbling and and so rewarding.
I truly wish I’d had more time to finish the entire Camino: unfortunately I did not.
But like others before me, I will return.
Instead, I’m continuing my love affair with France, a country I adore. The language, the landscape and the friendliness of the people.
Some may ‘tut tut’ at that last sentence, but I’ve always found French people to be warm and friendly.
This visit is no different.
My chance encounter with a French couple who’d just completed the entire Camino [Le Puy en Valay to Finisterre, approx 1600kms]. They happily shared very useful advice on walking Le Puy.
Bruno, my Airbnb host who warmly accepted my very last minute booking ( 1 hour), and who then praised my poor French language skills.
The wonderful people who invited me into the masses to enjoy and support Gay Pride.
And today: the wait staff at a restaurant where I stopped for lunch. They chatted animatedly with me before inviting me to join them later for drinks and dinner. I declined as I needed to get back to my Airbnb, however I was humbled by their kindness.
Tomorrow I head further north for a few days of walking through old villages, before heading to Lyon to spend time with an old, dear friend who I’ve not seen in quite a few years.
And just as my love affair with France continues, so does my love of travelling solo.
I’m never lonely, never frightened and despite missing my precious sons, special friends and of course my beloved sausages, life is sweet.
To those who fear solo travel, fear not, for it truly is an amazing experience that heightens the senses and soothes the soul…
Due to the date of my return flight, and commitments with my Sausage Dog Hotel at home, my time on the Camino Frances was only going to be 7 – 10 days.
As my walk continued, I knew the day was soon approaching when my walk in Spain would end.
And today was the day.
Whilst walking alone on one of the most beautiful stretches of the Camino, something happened and I just knew today was the day to leave the Camino Francis.
It wasn’t planned, I simply set off earlier than my lovely Camino buddy, Chu and sometime during that 14 km walk to the next town of Los Arcos, I knew my time on this walk had come to an end.
And what an end it was.
Vineyards, olive groves and fields of wheat framed the long stretches of dirt road. In the distance, emerald green hills rolled over the landscape and the endless tweeting of small birds filtered through the air.
I did not listen to music, only the sounds of nature and the gentle crunching of my footsteps on the dirt track as I placed one foot in front of the other.
I felt totally alone in the world. It was peaceful, therapeutic and incredibly calming.
I cannot verbally express the feeling of peace. The feeling of knowing I was on the right road.
It was then I knew it was time to walk part of another Camino: one that takes the pilgrim through the south west of France from Le Puy en Valay to Saint Jean Pied de Port.
Although my feelings to head to France and walk part of Camino Le Puy were strong, it also made sense for two reasons: firstly I’d be closer to Paris and my flight home and secondly, I’d get to walk through some of France’s most beautiful villages and countryside.
I arrived in Los Arcos and found bus that took me to San Sebastián via Pamplona and then onto Toulouse.
The journey from Los Arcos to Pamplona gave me an insight as to just how far I’d walked. I can’t describe how I felt seeing the massive wind turbines that I passed only 3 days before. It was a highly emotional moment. Had I, a 57 year old woman really walked that far?
I had and I was so damn proud of my achievement.
In Pamplona whilst waiting to my bus to San Sebastián, I spoke with an Italian man who is about to commence his Camino. He looked fit and about 30, yet he said he was getting a bus to Roncesvalles, rather than leaving from Saint Jean and traversing the Pyrenees: ‘It’s too hard…’ he told me. ‘I’ve heard it’s very tough on the body, I don’t think I’ll make it…’.
I smiled at him and said, ‘You can do it, yes, it’s tough, but believe in your ability to do it and you will. If I can, then so can you…’
I saw him a little later: he walked over to me and in broken English said, ‘ I go to Saint Jean, I walk over big mountain like you…’
For the second time today an enormous feeling of gratification flooded through my body. My Camino Frances experience had washed over and inspired someone else.
I felt elated.
I’m now sitting in a hostel in San Sebastián, sipping a cold beer and feeling pretty damn happy.
And San Sebastián is stunning btw..
But instead of exploring, tomorrow it’s on to my beloved France and hopefully a nice walk in the countryside…
That is the question.
After 3 nights of listening to a cacophony of snoring, the answer is easy.
So I booked a quaint hotel in the old town of Pamplona, and after only a short 2 hour walk from the snoring shed, I’ve arrived.
And whilst it’s not the Sheraton or Hilton, the room is mine, all mine. Honestly, I could do one serious Happy Dance.
I’ve been paying $AU20a night to sleep with snorers, I figure $A65 is worth every cent.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the warmly lit hotel restaurant, enjoying a buffet breakfast. Classical Spanish music plays softly and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, creating an inviting atmosphere.
Walking the Camino expends serious energy and when coupled with sleep deprivation, the impact that has on physicality is immense.
And besides, I’ve never been one to conform to the norm and just because one’s ‘supposed’ to stay in hostels when walking the Camino, does not mean one has to!
If the truth be known, I rather wish I’d brought a small tent and sleeping mat, as I feel camping would be more conducive to a good nights sleep.
I’ve seen some pilgrims with pop up tents and sleeping mats; they’re definite smart ones.
Anyway, it is what it is.
With the sleeping decision made, I soon have another decision to make: when to leave the Camino.
Due to my return flight departing Paris on June 17, my plan was never to finish the Camino Francis this time.
Depending on when I choose to leave CF, I may have the option to walk part of the Camino Le Puy, which would allow me to walk through a beautiful part of France. That has its advantages because 1. I love France and 2. it’s closer to Paris and my return flight.
But for now, its a rest day in Pamplona and hopefully a much needed good nights sleep.
It’s now 0500 on day 3 of my Camino Frances and everything I read about sleep deprivation due to snoring in the dorms has become a reality.
Thankfully the aubergue Chu and I are staying in has a lounge downstairs, and as it sounds like 3 freight trains are roaring through our dorm, I’ve come down to write.
I’d been lucky the first 3 nights – no snorers, but we hit the jackpot last night.
Ah such is life on the Camino.
Whilst the snoring, blisters and physical exhaustion are the difficult elements of walking the Camino, the camaraderie, scenery and personal gratification inspires and drives your determination to push through.
Walking over the Pyrenees on Day 1 attested to that. To say it was physically challenging is an understatement. At times, during the toughest inclines I felt like one of those marathon runners who on seeing the finish line, collapse.
My legs felt as though they’d turned to jelly, I felt dizzy and at times, was on the verge of vomiting. But despite the discomfort, something was pushing me up those mountains. Was it spiritual or simple determination? I don’t know.
Despite the challenges, Chu and I limped into Roncesvalles 10 hours after leaving Saint Jean.
Chu is a wonderful lady from California who I met on my first day in Saint Jean Pied de Port. Something clicked and we just started walking together. Chu is doing the entire Camino and as I can only do part of it due to flight changes, we will soon part ways.
She’s such a warm, funny woman with a wealth of trekking knowledge and walking together seems to fit us both well. We’re both independent woman who enjoy our own company, and over these last two, oh so tough days, we’ve been a huge support to each other. We walk comfortably in silence, neither of us feeling the need to fill that silence, which is quite rare when you first meet. At different times we’ve walked ahead of each other, knowing that we’ll reconnect somewhere along the track. It’s comforting to know someone’s ‘got your back’ but also comforting knowing we’re walking our own Camino.
After our tough climb over the Pyrenees, Day 2 was supposed to be a little easier. And it well could’ve been if our bodies were not trying to recover from the Pyrenees climb. Day 2 presented different challenges, our bodies hurt, we’d both developed blisters, which made the rocky terrain difficult.
We walked with pain, yet we also walked with laughter.
Day 2 took us through rural farmlands where there’s an abundance of sheep, cows and horses, many of whom wear large bells that filter a sense of calm across the Spanish landscape.
Yesterday whilst walking through a thickly forested area we could hear the calming bell somewhere nearby. As we rounded a corner, a horse appeared. It was grazing about 3 metres from the path. We were not concerned or afraid. But within a few minutes another 5 joined the bell wearing leader. Again we were not too concerned and continued past them and on our way.
Before long we heard the bell not too far away and on turning around, we saw our new friends we now sauntering along the path behind us. If we stopped they stopped. If we didn’t they got closer. I’m guessing their feet didn’t hurt as they walked quite a bit quicker.
But their pace picked up and they were soon right behind us. We tried stepping off the path behind a tree, but again, when we stopped so did they.
They followed us for quite some time until Chu decided to hide behind a tree to let them pass. She said they must have got a whiff of her just as they got to ‘her’ tree, as they turned on their hooves and bolted in the opposite direction.
So alongside the snoring, aching bodies and blisters, the laughter has been in abundance. There’s also the wonderful camaraderie. So many interesting people with interesting stories to tell.
The Camino stirs many emotions and despite the physical hardship Im grateful to be having this incredible experience.
There’s always a downside to travelling: long flights and long layovers.
In my case it was the latter.
Having 17 hours between flights in Shanghai the best thing to do was get a hotel. And according to Booking.com there are an abundance of reasonable hotels within 10 minutes of the airport.
With a few clicks, my bed for the night was sorted, as was the free shuttle. All I had to do was get off the flight, get on the shuttle and then get into bed: perfect.
But like all best laid plans, it often takes only one element to fail and everything turns proverbially pear shaped.
My failed element was the shuttle. Yep, it wasn’t there.
Not one to be daunted easily I simply walked over to the info desk where a lovely young girl happily offered to call the hotel.
Enter problem number two. The number on my booking.com booking was not connected.
‘Sorry, number not work, you get taxi…’
Ok so be it, taxi it is. Still undeterred I asked her to check how far and the approximate cost of the taxi. As any experienced traveller will tell you, unsuspecting tourists often get slogged for small taxi fares. Better to err on the side of caution.
‘Ten minute only, 60 RMB…’she said dismissing with a wave of her hand. Obviously I’d used up all my free questions, so off I went in search of the taxi rank.
It wasn’t hard to find and after being directed to the next taxi, I showed my driver the hotel address, which was also in Chinese. With much nodding and hand waving, there was some semblance of assurance that I was on my way and I felt mildly confident that I’d soon be enjoying a hot shower and a warm bed.
There was no doubt I was on my way, just apparently not to my hotel and my supposed 10 minute ride quickly became 30. I suppose I should’ve been grateful for the tour of Pudong and to have met a few lovely hotel receptionists at the ‘wrong’ hotels we stopped at, but fatigue and frustration had started to take over.
Clearly my driver had no idea and just when I was about to try and get him to head back to the airport, he started gibbering excitedly and was gesturing toward a brightly lit building.
‘Jie Jia, Jie Jia…’ he shouted gleefully behind his plastic driver protection screen, whilst animatedly pointing at a brightly lit building.
Apparently, we’d finally arrived.
Thirty minutes and a hot shower later, I sat on the bed and had a little giggle to myself. Yep, travel certainly presents challenges that can result in frustration, but I guess it comes down to how we let those challenges affect us.
Sometimes you just have to let it ride over you and smile.
And on the plus side of my soirée in Shanghai. Meeting fantastic China Eastern crew and two hilariously funny Chinese tourists whilst waiting in line to board the flight to Paris. They were in the 70’s, thought I was Russian, then on finding out I was on my own, Australian and walking across Spain, I became their hero 🤣🤣🤣. I could easily dedicate an entire post to them …
Daphne has been dressed and undressed multiple times over the last few days. She’s been pulled, prodded, squeezed and squashed, but all for a good cause. For Daphne is and will be my main companion over the coming weeks and her bits being just right is paramount for our upcoming journey.
If you don’t know me personally, then I imagine you could be somewhat confused with the first paragraph. But if you do know me, then you’ll know I’ve always had a penchant for naming inanimate objects, particularly luggage. I spent over 20 years travelling the world as an international flight attendant, and giving my luggage names simply became the norm.
With that explained, Daphne, if you hadn’t already figured is my backpack. And a rather lovely one at that. She’s a ruby red, rather slim 28 litre Deuter: which means I need to be ruthless with my packing choices. Couple that with the fact Daphne and I will literally be joined at the hip, reducing her weight is a necessity.
So I’m pleased to say she weighs a doable 6.5 kgs. A little over the suggested 10 % of the carriers body weight ( I’m 59kgs) but all in all I think we’ve done well. There are items that have no emotional attachment, so if I need to offload on the way, it’ll be easy.
However I’ve also packed an item that DOES have emotional attachment. My Dad’s rain jacket.
He passed away 2 years ago, and I felt it was really important to carry something that belonged to him. Whenever I travelled he would often tell me to make sure I was warm or dry, so taking his rain jacket is for me poignantly significant. It is also something that he and Mum bought together, so in some ways they are both coming along for the ride. Which, as Mum told me yesterday, makes her really happy.
So with Daphne sorted and Stanley somewhat miffed and definitely suspicious of what lies ahead, we are pretty much ready.
Yep, two days and counting… 🙂
A few years ago I watched a beautiful movie titled The Way. A touching story about a man whose life changed after walking the Camino de Santiago.
Call me ignorant, but I’d not heard of the Camino before watching this film, but in the aftermath of its ending, I was left feeling the need to discover more.
And on researching, I realised I wanted to walk the Camino. Not because I needed to mirror the impact it had on Martin Sheen’s character, but because I simply wanted to experience the emotional and physical challenges the Camino appeared to present.
As a self-proclaimed empath, it’s the emotional challenges that will undoubtedly be the most confronting. Why? Because the thought of having to share ‘personal space’ with strangers is terrifying as my need for solitude is a profound part of my being. Without it, I tend to become anxious and withdrawn. Couple that with my fear of socialisation and you have to wonder why I’m subjecting myself to such obvious personal adversity. But isn’t that what life is about? Finding ways to challenge adversity, albeit personal or otherwise?
Yes, I could opt out of dormitory accommodation and choose to stay in private rooms, but what is the point of that? In doing so, I’d be taking the easy way out and not honouring my reason for walking, which is, to experience the challenges.
And that brings me to the physical challenge of walking up to 30 kilometres a day across diverse terrain. Funnily enough I’m exhilarated at the thought of placing one foot in front of the other, hour after hour. These long treks will be my emotional charging station. My time for refection, my time for solitude. My time to allow the weight of past hurt to slowly slip away with every forward step. Of course fear is there, I’m human after all, but the need to discover things about myself is far greater than that fear.
My walk across Spain will undoubtedly present a myriad of emotional, physical and social challenges. And as I write these words in the comfort of my home , surrounded by my beloved dogs, I’m ready, ready to embrace whatever the Camino places in my path.
A dear friend messaged me the other day and spoke about how the best ideas are those that come from the heart. And when you follow those ideas with passion, those ideas are more often than not, successful.
For a very long time I had an idea, one that was born from love and driven by my passion for animals, in particular dachshunds, aka Sausage Dogs.
My idea was to create a space for Sausages to come and stay whilst their humans are away. A place where they feel loved, secure and a place where they socialise with my own beloved Sausages.
So I took my idea and made it a reality: Stanley & Bear, a hotel for Sausages is open and thriving.