Those fortunate enough to have travelled to France will understand the wonders of the country’s markets.
Framing well-worn paths are rows upon rows of vibrant, fresh produce. At every stall, small silver bowls are stacked precariously, waiting to be filled with delicious morsels that will later become the foundation for building mouth-watering meals.
Melodic chatter fills the air as locals barter for a bargain, and friends gather to share stories and laughter.
Fresh, simple. Beautiful.
I take time to simply observe the simplicity of the moments. Moments that are unhurried, moments that are embraced.
And as a solo traveller who does not need to move within another’s time frame, I have the freedom to move to my own rhythm.
A rhythm that does not have me visit tourism offices, nor to source ‘to do’ sights. In doing so I discover interesting places, and more often than not, those wondrous, out of the way places where locals gather.
Whilst walking part of the Camino de Santiago, I wrote brief anecdotes via my iPhone and posted here and other social media sites. With only a small backpack, no DSLR and no computer, my plan was to document my experience in greater detail once home. However life has unwittingly taken the driver’s seat and it’s now over 2 months since I returned without a single word written.
Time to start writing. Or perhaps for the moment, just a few words accompanied with a collection of images. As the cliche goes: a picture speaks a thousand words…
Day 1: New friends, breathtaking scenery and 24 kms of endless hills that pushed me to my physical limits. There were moments where my body screamed for me to quit, and it was in those moments my mental strength needed to be stronger. It was and despite the extreme physical challenge, my mind conquered, it was intoxicating & exhilarating …
Day 2: 22 kms – Exhaustion has taken over. It’s so physically challenging and everyone we meet says the same. Apparently the first 10 days are known as the ‘Suffering’ I can absolutely attest to that. On the upside the scenery is breathtaking as were the positive and uplifting comments on social media…
Kim Lindquist Good on you girlfriend I feel like I’m walking it with you…wish I was…but sad to say I’d be one of your pesky snorers 🤣1
Mark Lindquist Hang in there Jen. Your mind will lead you not your body.😎😎😎
Jenny Joyce What fabulous scenery!! I’m enjoying reading your blog and in awe of the incredible trek you are doing.
Day 5: Pamplona to Mendizabal, 22.5kms Both Chu and I said we felt as though we were walking through Tuscany. It was beautiful. Only one drawback was the crowds. This was the first day we’d encountered many people, but we took our time and waited for the masses to pass which allowed us alone time. We stopped 1.5kms short of the 5th stage, and we’re now staying at a lovely homestay with only 1 other pilgrim from NZ. The hospitaleria is right now, making us dinner whilst we sit in his lounge room sharing our experiences . Being only the 3 of us means an uninterrupted sleep is a definite. ❤️❤️💤
Day 6: I’d read how walking the Camino exposes you to so many emotional, physical and cultural experiences. Day 6 encompassed that for me.
I’m not religious yet felt drawn to walk into a 16th century church and send peace & love to certain people. I felt my body overheating so i took time to let it rest. And tonight, dinner was shared with 7 other people from Australia (me), Italy, France, Korea, China & USA. We could not understand each other, yet we all spent over two hours enjoying each other’s company. For me, best night on the Camino so far ❤️
Day 7: I brought my late Dad’s rain jacket with me on the Camino and today, we are taking a walk together in the rain and sipping steaming lattes in quaint cafes …❤️
Day 8: It was time to head to France to walk part of the Camino Le Puy, via San Sebastián. But my last morning on Frances was spent walking 14 kms through beautiful vineyards, olive groves and fields of wheat that 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.
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…
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 friend said to me recently: ‘think about where you want to be in 5 years, then figure out how best to get there…’. On hearing his words, I did not need to think about where I wanted to be, for I already knew.
In 5 years I shall be sitting in a cafe in Paris, sipping a good Pinot whilst watching Parisian life stroll by.
On finishing my wine, I return to my apartment and take a moment to gaze upon the array of red chimney tops that adorn the abundant rooftops. Atop the small table that occupies the space beneath the open window, pots of brightly coloured flowers sit alongside fresh herbs of which I use to excite my cooking. In the small yet quaint living room, an overstuffed sofa bed bought from a second hand store, waits for my two grown sons who are soon to arrive. I am excited at the prospect of time soon to be spent with my beautiful children, who are, and always will be my greatest achievement.
My French is now reasonable and in the last years I have trekked the Annapurna Circuit, floated in the Dead Sea and gazed in wonder at the natural beauty of the Northern Lights. I have spent time teaching in foreign lands and broadened my knowledge in photography.
I ponder where I have left footprints and find I have no regrets, for I have lived and am now living, life…