life, travel

Realisations & friendly strangers…


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 that 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 arrived in Lyon and 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 sounded 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 as I have never labelled myself as being brave.

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…

life, travel

A French love affair…


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…

❤️❤️🐾🐾❤️❤️

life

A new road to walk…


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.

My 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…

travel

To sleep or not to sleep…


That is the question.

After 3 nights of listening to a cacophony of snoring, the answer is easy.

Sleep wins!

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.

life

Sleeping with strangers…


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.