The final curtain

imageimageimageimageimageWe went down for dinner and found that we had a table reserved in the hotel restaurant. The owners wife also runs the restaurant, I took measurement with calipers and the owner hadn’t moved a centimeter all day. Monica ordered Salmon (done so lightly it was almost raw) and I had lamb shank, both dishes were excellent. A local red wine, and a apple tartan that teased Monica’s creative culinary skills.

Oh yes, what a beautiful stop. Owners who truly understand service. BUT ..tomorrow we head into are last week with the Pyrenees ahead…we’ve shorten the first 3 days to 20K but the next 3 will be 27 to 30 and ending in St Jean Pied de Port which will complete 1200 miles walked since 2012. You have all been in our thoughts and prayers. It is friends like all of you that changes the world. Bon Chemin. With love
M & D

French theatre

Oh no, another night of French theatre with us in the leading roles. Today was an easy flat walk along continuous cornfields.when we arrived at our destination, we had not eaten since the Spartan French breakfast, and there was a busy cafe so we decided on glass of wine and light lunch. On the menu they listed burgers, and half burgers. Monica wondered who would order half a burger, so she ordered a regular burger. The burger came and would have challenged Dagwood and Wimpy. It a slice of bread with about a 1/3 lb burger with a 1/4 lb of goat cheese on top, then another slice of bread, and the meat and cheese repeated on top of that,then another slice of bread. Served with lettuce salad and fries. Take a lot of walking to burn that off.
Then we went to the hotel, and the owner doesn’t speak a word of English and doesn’t want to try. He grunts something to a waitress/maid and she disappears up a flight of stairs without speaking or any recognition of us. We were supposed to have known to follow her to the room. The maid had left a key in the door to a room, so that must be ours. The bed had no top sheet, only a very heavy comforter. The weather is too warm for the comforter, so we go ask the owner for a sheet. After repeatedly trying to explain all I wanted was a bed sheet, and getting no response at all, Monica used the translator app on her cell, it has been very successful in the past. He mumbled something about the English language and went back to doing whatever.
We went out for a drink and Monica ordered a Picon. Very French don’t you know. The bartender didn’t have any idea what the drink was, so I went in and showed him the bottle and ask for a drink with it. There were about a dozen locals at the bar, and nobody spoke English, or had any idea of what kind of a drink you would make with Picon. Monica suggested serving it over ice, but the French don’t use much ice, so nobody there could remember the recipe. We gave up and returned to the hotel. Seeing us the owner called to his wife to come find out what we needed. She only spoke French also, so first she got us a blanket, Wrong. Then she got very upset that we didn’t like her comforter. Eventually we all got on the same page, and we got a sheet.

A grand style – almost

 The Pastor's homeimageTonite we are staying in a Gite which is in a beautiful 300 year old home that adjoins the church and originally was the pastor’s home. Beautiful, but. . . Sadly, It is downwind from a duck farm, and gets an over powering smell of duck droppings.
The little feathered rascals are worse than cows.
We have been wondering why we see tractor trailers of grapes, but we don’t see anyone picking. This morning the mystery was solved. The grapes are picked mechanically by a machine (tractor) that straddles the row of grapes, and driving down the row removes just the grapes, even picking them from the stems. It then transfers the grapes to a tractor trailer and the job is done. Only two workers, where there use to be dozens.

Twilight Zone

We have entered a parallel world, we have left the world of Dumas and are now in the world of Ken Kesey – “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”
We show up at the Sports bar at 3:30, and are told (via translator on our cell phone) that the room is not ready. Monique is wearing a chef jacket and preparing the nights menu. No problem, it is the end of the days hike we’ll have a beer.
The chef/owner is Monique. Then Monique says we can take our packs upstairs, and she wants to take Monica’s, but is shocked at how heavy it is. Sometime later we go to our room, but it is still being cleaned – by Monique. We finally get our room, shower, wash our socks and underwear, and go back downstairs (the bar) to wait for dinner. We ask the bartender (Monique) for a glass of Rose. During this time several locals stop in for a drink and gossip with the bartender – Monique. Dinner time arrives and the bartender, you guessed who, asked if we would like anything else. I say no we will go in for dinner. We go into the dining room, take a table and the waitress – Monique, brings us water and wine. The waitress, you are right again, serves the salad, which is a leaf of lettuce, an 1/8 of a small tomato, and a two inch sq. of Spanish tortilla. The chef – Monique, then comes out and asks Monica if she eats chicken. Shortly, after hearing a chorus of microwave oven alert bells ringing, we are served limp canned green beans, naked macaroni, and a small piece of chicken. I saw her put the chicken in the microwave otherwise you couldn’t prove it wasn’t prepared by a taxidermist. More microwave bells rang and dessert was served, a Sysco custard pie. During our dining experience several other patrons, thinking this was an actual restaurant and not a setting for a TV sitcom, came in and ordered. The dinner music was the carillon of bells from the several microwave oven alarms. When the bells rang the meek unassuming bartender Monique, would rush into the kitchen, don an apron and become Chef Monique. Bells were ringing, Monique was running about playing at least three personas, it was a Michelin star time moment, while all the patrons were totally mystified. Operator, trace the call and tell me where I am. We left the dining room were going through the bar to our room, when the bartender – Monique asked what time we would like breakfast? We told her and then as we were going up the stairs to our room a side door opened and Monique wished us a good night.
The bed in our tiny room has a mattress that has after many years realized its dream to be a hammock. The paper thin walls may give birth to the next Great American novel.
Come Toto we must sleep.

Over the bar

imageimageimageimageSounds like we may have been pole vaulting, but no, tonite our room is upstairs over a sports bar. The sports are local hiking groups and Patanque players, not quite a Hells Angel bar crowd.
Today we carried our packs, and passed through the Capital of Armanacq, and finally found a large wine growing area. At OUR bar we met a winemaker, who said it is his passion, but no matter how talented you may be, or how hard you work, it comes down to the whims of Nature.
We have been walking in Gasgogne, so pick a Dumas novel, a nice snifter of Armanacq, and relax in a room with a view – scratch that idea, we still have miles to go, and blisters to grow.
In the true Camino spirit, one of the vineyards we passed had two picnic tables with an ice chest of bottles of cold water, and a large thermos of coffee set out with a sign inviting pilgrims to partake. It made a cool shady spot for our picnic.

imageimageimageimageimageLast night we stayed at a Gite/Chambre, not really in a village, but a beautiful property. As usual everyone at dinner was French, so to include us the conversation was in French, Spanish and English, sounds impossible but it worked. One of the Frenchmen commented how difficult it is to go to a country that uses a different language, and that many of the French would not travel to other countries for that reason. That explains why many of the French end their Pilgrimage at the Spanish border. Monica and I never consider it, there may be a bit of frustration, but we seem to communicate for all our needs wherever we are.
The one French couple passed us on the trail earlier in the day, but we ended up together at dinner. The husband was 52,and an engineer for Air Bus. He was surprised when he told us that he worked for Boeings main competitor. We immediately said Air Bus. They live in Toulouse, and several years ago, went out their door with their packs, put the key under the mat, and walked to Santiago de Compostela. One of his hobbies is sail planing, but he is passionate about the Caminos to Santiago,and they plan to do the northern route next.
This morning was more farmland although we did pass a small vineyard, and flush pheasant from one field, on our way to (pardon the expression) Condom, France. The cathedral here is another marvel of rock stacking. We got here early, so had a very nice lunch. A large salad of lettuce, tomato, and duck gizzards, Monica had duck confit and I pushed the envelope with a beef tartare. I ordered a bottle of Rose, and ask if it was local, the waitress said the vineyard was only 3 kilometers away. Yes, less than two miles, that is local.
Here as all of Franne local wines are featured, but this is the Armagnac region, so meals end with Brandy, Armagnac of course.

What no Wee Fee?

imageDay before yesterday we had to stay in a chambre because of the name “Maison de Chats Bleu” House of the Blue Cats. We had to carry our backpacks up to the third floor. The tourist office told us to look for the house with all the flowers. They were right, all three stories were covered with flowers. The woman also had cats, one named Diva, she warned us may pee on our packs. Out,Out, bad Diva. It turned out ok.
The next day was shown in the guide books as an easy 17 miles, but was a continual roller coaster hike, up one side of the hill, over the top, down the backside, repeat,repeat,repeat. We ended at a farm,that was described as private rooms 90 euros, also a Gite and a campground. For the price and location this must be a class act. It was cheaper than advertised, but didn’t come close to what we imagined from reading the ad. They could have filmed Ma & Pa Kettle on the farm here. But,we did meet a young couple of bicyclists from Holland, who were on their way to Santiago de Compostela, and were then going to continue on to Morocco. Now that’s a bike ride.
Today was about 14 miles of Fields of Sunflowers, Soy beans, and corn, or just plowed fields for as far as the eye can see.
Not much distraction, but Monica did graze from the fig trees as we passed by. This is big farm country, has much in common with our San Joachim Valley.

Yesterday’s sage advice

imageimageimageYesterday when we met the prune grower, we told him where we had walked from, and I told him I didn’t know how many more years we could continue. His response,”don’t think about it,you are doing it now. Live in the now.”
Then we met the Gite owner, who also drove us to Moissac and didn’t want any payment for his service, I had asked how his day was going, and he responded,”if I have a problem I call St. Jacques, 111, Hello! St.jacques I need help. His number is, On the Way, no problem.” Meeting the people along the way is one of the many side benefits.
It can’t get much better than today’s walk, about 12 miles, 9 of which were flat and shady following a canal. It was interesting because there were a number of vacation rental boats using the canal,and during our snack break we got to watch a boat pass through a set of locks. The Cambre from last night that we thought was iffy turned out to be nice, and the woman gave us bread and apples for our picnic. We added a delicious blue cheese that we bought yesterday at the festival for a very nice picnic.