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.
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…
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.
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.
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 few years ago I was living and working as a teacher in the Penghu islands, a small archipelago off the coast of Taiwan. As part of my teaching contract, I had an apartment on the first floor of the school, it was small, yet it offered a great view of the surrounding area from my bedroom window.
From this spot I was able to voyeuristically take in the daily rituals of many. Yet it was the nightly garbage collection that had me perched at the window every night.
I shall explain.
Firstly, garbage collection is a weekly ritual in Australia and somewhat straightforward and boring. In the early hours of a council appointed day, a garbage truck noisily makes its way along the street, emptying the contents of each wheelie bin into its large bowels. There is nothing interesting about the process it is simply what it is – a garbage collection.
In Penghu, it’s different, entertaining and occurs every night around 9pm.
With a similar sound to that of an ice-cream truck, the garbage trucks of Penghu fill the night air with upbeat, happy music to herald their impending arrival.
On hearing the familiar tune, residents rush out of their homes laden with bags, boxes and a variety of other vessels containing their daily waste.
At certain points it stops, and as residents know these points, they uniformly wait in line for the trucks impending arrival, then in a very orderly fashion they deposit their rubbish into the back where it is then churned, crushed or devoured.
From my vantage point, it appears to be a beautifully choreographed show with all players performing their roles with the utmost precision and patience.
And as the music fades and the truck’s lights disappear from view, I watch as some residents return to their homes, whilst others linger: perhaps taking this moment to re-connect and socialise.
This seemingly simple, nightly garbage collection encapsulates what I love about travelling: experiencing a city’s unique and quirky rituals and how they shape the way of life for those who live there.
I love Europe, but I am also Australian, which is somewhat problematic when wanting to indulge that European passion.
On the bright side though, I was also an international flight attendant. For many years I served the masses from overloaded trolleys whilst hurtling across oceans in a sleek, silver tube bound for new adventures.
Needless to say this employment allowed me to partake in a number of my own, off-duty adventures. Not all were in my beloved Europe, nonetheless, they all offered adventure of various description of which I documented in a blog I no longer use.
A few posts in particular captured the adventures of a few wintery weeks driving through regions of France, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Rather than let those moments that were filled with mayhem and hilarity, yet also quiet contemplation melt into cyberspace, I have re-posted here.
Feel free to read on – maybe grab a wine or coffee as it could take awhile…
A good friend asked me recently, ‘Jen, do you ever think about where you will be in 5 years?’
On hearing his words, I did not need to think about where I’ll be, for I already knew as a destination has danced in my mind for many years. Now, as my life changes and my family now shape their own futures, the path to that destination is becoming a reality.
So where shall I be?
I shall be somewhere in France, perhaps sipping a good Pinot Noir or Gris, whilst basking in the hue of glorious sunset from the verandah of my home.
Along the verandah’s balustrade, brightly coloured flowers stretch upward and fresh herbs, of which I use to excite my cooking adorn the ledge. In the garden, my precious sausage dogs are taking in the scents, before rolling with passion on the freshly mowed grass.
In the small, yet quaint living room an overstuffed sofa bed bought from a second hand store, lies in wait for my two grown boys who are soon to arrive.
My french is now reasonable and in the last 5 years I have trekked the Annapurna, floated in the Dead Sea and gazed in wonder at the natural beauty of the Northern Lights.
My life is full of simple pleasures. Daily jaunts to the colourful market where freshly baked baguettes and locally grown produce are in abundance. Summer evenings see friends gathering under the vine covered terrace, their faces taking on a warm, orange glow from the abundance of fairy lights intertwined through the vine’s branches. Soft music filters through the night air, as does the laughter of people living a life well loved.
In the winter months snowflakes dance through the frosty air before blanketing the ground, and transforming my garden into a shimmering winter wonderland. Inside, I’m curled upon that comfy sofa in front of a flickering log fire, with the company of a good book and my beloved dogs.
I am content, I have fulfilled long held dreams.
Mostly though, I’m full of love for my beautiful children and loyal dogs who are, and always will be my greatest achievement.