1 July 2008 - St Gilles
I left Beaupuy just over a week ago, picking up a canal to Toulouse, then started from there on the Canal du Midi. The first 25 miles were a breeze: wide, asphalted path, picturesque avenues of trees lining the bank of the Canal. After that, well, it was never quite the same. So, instead of it being a challenge against boredom and beauty, it became quite a physical one: narrow paths, often no wider than a giant's thumbnail; close to the water; tall grasses, ferocious brambles; and the surfaces!
The surfaces were either gravel - lovely (yes, really, most of the gravel was great) or mud, which was murder, mainly because it was rutted, with lots of stones and roots popping up all the time. It meant I was concentrating all the time between the ground either immediately in front of me or beyond, trying to anticipate my moves. When I did think, well, hang on, I should be taking in the scenery, and dared to raise my eyes to the canal, would you believe, in a twinkling of an eyelid, when I looked back at the path, hey presto, a whopping big tree root was vying for my attention! Ooops. I fell off once, when a tree jumped out in front of me.
Either I stayed in a gite or I camped, reluctantly at first, as it seems an age since I last slept in my tent ( 4 weeks, actually). In either, I thought how hot and humid each night was, hence, I was not sleeping at all well. However, I slowly began to surmise that, being a woman of a certain age, there was another cause for such unpleasant symptoms. Bother.
I arrived at Marseillan last Friday. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of the Canal du Midi (officially, it's futher on at Frontignan. The last short stretch from Agde was the most challenging. Loads of people en route had warned me not to do it, as it was very difficult. I decided to try it anyway. They were right; it was horrible. I had to unload my bike twice, to get it up a couple of steep slopes. I spent most of the time as if I was on a child's scooter, one foot on the pedal and one foot pushing along the ground, trying not to fall into the canal, cos it was right on the lip and getting scratched to death by the brambles and thorns. At the second slope, I was then also supposed to go down a steep slope (by steep, I mean you almost needed an abseil rope) without carrying on into the water. Anyway, by now I had had enough (there is a limit, after all), no choice to go back, no way I could continue. The only choice left was sideways; rather than into the water, I opted for land. There was a lovely path just a little bit inland; the only trouble being that there was a 3-string barbed wire fence separating us. I went for it and didn't look back (only all around me, waiting to be shot or attacked by something - one's imagination works overtime occasionally).
But, I made it! I arrived at Marseillan - and just cried and cried. I realised how incredibly tired I was, physically and emotionally. I've had to do some serious talking to myself these last couple of weeks (no problem; I can do that) and now I am back on a level keel and looking forward to continuing my trip. I've also had to contend with a really chesty cough, a sore, swollen foot, a tingling hand and a streaming cold. All now nearly better.
I've had some lovely encounters with people; one low day, I was given a free place (cos I was a pilgrim!) on a beautiful campsite with a glorious swimming pool, in which I luxuriated, wearing a permanent grin on my face (I received some strange looks from people).
I am now in the ancient pilgrim town of St Gilles, tomorrow I go to Arles and then continue on the Compostella route to Rome. I anticipate arriving there by Tuesday 22 July.
I had a great evening in St Gilles, eating en famille at 'La Pause au Pélérin' restaurant, opposite the church, with the restaurant owner and his wife, Jean Claude and Odile, plus a couple of friends, André and Giovanni. It was brilliant: such lovely company, such patience (as has everyone) with my rubbish french and such delicious compliments in an email afterwards.
BTW, it is now 2 months since I left home; I have done over 2000 miles. That leaves me roughly 18000 miles and 22 months to go before I sleep in my own bed again. but who's counting? :-)
A toute à l'heure.
5 July 2008 - La Seyne-sur-Mer
Life is good.
I received another free placement on a campsite - again with a swimming pool! When I asked Gilles, the campsite proprietor, why, he replied simply, 'because I am a Christian'. :-) :-)
Since then, I arrived in Marseilles and now am following the Cote D'Azur, tenting at Cassis, and now here at La Seyne-sur-Mer.
Yesterday I was cycling through the beautiful bays, with their marinas and beaches and inflated drinks prices. I had sat a while on a bench when, about to set off again, a guy on a boat raised his glass in invitation to come and join his group for a drink (I had a pear juice, before you surmise). He and two of his companions were keen randonée cyclists and were quite interested in my bike. It was a nice little interlude, with loads of good wishes and photos.
My stay with Jean and Monique extended from 1 night to 3 nights. Wow, how lovely is that! I have tried out my new bikini which I bought a few days ago (to replace the post-sell-by one I had brought with me, purchased a mere 25 years ago!). I've had a wonderful weekend with Jean and Monique. Merci beaucoup.
In about 3 days I shall have left France and arrived in Italy. I havev received the most fantastic friendliness and hospitality in the 5 weeks I have travelled through this lovely counttry and I should like to say to all who have befriended me during this time: Je vous remercie beaucoup pout tout, particulièrement les invitations de revenir! J'espère à vous voir encore en 2010. :-)
15 July 2008 - Empoli, Italy
The trip is great. The coast is just wonderful, having gone through Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Monaco and then into the Italian Riviera. The sea is a truly amazingly vivid blue.
I've had such lovely encounters: whilst meandering along the promenade of one town, a passing cyclist asked if I was cycling round the world, and then was surprised when I replied yes. It is his dream to do the same. The upshot of this encounter was that I stayed with Guy and his son, Florien, that night. It also saw me clinging on for dear life at half past ten at night, whilst we went by scooter to see how nice Nice is at night.
I entered Italy with some trepidation; I didn't know the language, nor the protocol for finding accommodation. But, God is good, and he always seems to bring people along at the right time. I was getting nowhere with my phrasebook italian in trying to find the Tourist Office, when an Aussie voice said he was looking for it also. Anyway, we found it together and arranged accommodation and thus ended up travelling together for the next couple of days.
Tim and I were definitely the hare and the tortoise: his strategy was to follow his GPS between a & b as fast as he could, and then really take in the destination place with all it had to offer, in the way of historic sites and beer places. I prefer to pootle along and experience the route and just occasionally stop for a more in-depth look at a particular place. We tried my way the first day and his the second. My pace is about 10 to 12 mph; Tim's is 15-17 mph. We did his for 25 miles until we reached Genova.
I'm really glad that Tim decided to stay there for a couple of days; I was continuing onwards. :-) He's a really nice lad and we hope to meet up in Rome, which is when he then makes his way back to Amsterdam and then to Oz. He was so enthusiastic about his trip and also about mine. He had taken just 3 weeks to plan his trip; he was staying in hotels, had his GPS and wore sandals to cycle! Totally mad. :-)
Another encounter was with a wonderful woman who had stopped me because of my bike to ask about my trip. In the end she helped me by walking me to the Tourist Office and then sitting in the office until I was sorted with a campsite. She was brilliant at communicating and we even had a conversation about my trip, asking if I wasn't afraid of travelling on my mind. We hugged goodbye and she blew me kisses ... a real sweetie.
I've spent a couple of days in Pisa; the leaning tower is really worth seeing - amazing! Spent the afternoon on the beach; It was incredibly windy, red flags all along the coast, wonderful waves to play in.
Now I'm on my way to Florence and then on to Rome (where I've been promised an ice cream by a total stranger, but who happens to know a colleague at the Centre for Deaf Studies). I have another travelling companion and so life is good.
25 July 2008 - ROME
Rome, ah Rome. It is 2986.4 miles from my home to St Peter's Square. To enter St Peter's anyway is quite stunning; it is huge and impressive. To eneter it having cycled here was AWESOME. It was a long, long moment to be savoured, which I did, and to be filled with emotion, which I did.
Since leaving Pisa, we travelled via Florence and Siena. Florence has some really interesting grey and white striped buildings. Siena has a huge square, a bit in the shape of an amphitheatre ands is quite a social place. We managed to stay in a pilgrim refuge; my ony one since France. The sisters of charity of St Vincent were lovely; hardly any English and we hardy any Italian, but somehow you get by. It also felt special because I had visited the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent in France, where it was founded by a man with a lovely, kindly face. There were three other pilgrims staying the night, on the their way to Rome from Turing and Milan.
We stayed 2 days in Rome, going to the Trevi fountain, the Colisseum, Parthenon. We paid for a tour of the Vatican, which, although not particularly cheap, was worth it for the jumping of a 2-hour queue and for the great information. The Sistine Chapel is really interesting and fun when you know the story behind some of the scenes. St Peter's church is really fantastic.
When we arrived in Rome, just before coming into St Peter's Square, who should be walking by, .... but Tim, the Aussie!! How amazing is that! He had arrived on Friday (we arrived on Sunday). We arranged to have a meal the following evening, but then his plans changed when his emergency passport came through quickly and so he decided to head by train to Munich to finish his cycling trip to Amstrerdam.
I also met up with James, who had promised me an ice cream when I arrived in Rome. Instead, we had drinks and aperitivo. He also offered me use of his English computer the following evening. Unfortunately, when it came to it, I could not update my site, as I have admin problems (now sorted; this journal is being done in retrospect!).
Tomorrow, I leave Rome and on my own again. Mixed feelings.
BTW, I also notche up 3000 miles the same day we entered Rome, as we travelled a further 15 miles, mostly along the (very) bumpy Appian Way to get to where we staying.
28 July 2008 - Molfetta, Adriatic Coast
Having left Rome, I headed back to the Mediterranean (tell me if I've spelt it wrong) coast and continued until just after Gaeta, when I went inland, hoping that I'd mapped the least hilly route possible through the Appenines. Not a great deal of camping inland and so I ended up the first night travelling 10 kms in the 'wrong' direction to a campsite (thus retracing my steps the following day), paid a huge amount for an albergio (supposedly a cheap hotel) in Benevento the next night; was given a reduced right (cos I was cycling) at a Sanctuario up a whopping big hill (so I think I deserved the discount) in Bovino, before arriving on the Adriatic coast yesterday.
Up until 3 days ago, I have had nothing but kind encounters. Now I have had some lechy and leery experiences, which has somewhat my outlook on Italy - what a shame. I shall be glad to leave for Greece in a few days time. And I shall concentrate on the nice encounters: such as the older chap on a bike who overtook me on a hill and then indicated to stop at a bar, where he bought me a coffee and asked a bit about my trip. Also, the day I was pulled over on 2 occasions by police cars (2 each time), out of curiosity. And the little supermarket, where 3 young women and a teenage lad were all so friendly and really interested in my trip - and impressed, I have to say. All good.
I feel more and more that I am being looked after and that God is bringing people into my life for a purpose. It'll be really interesting to see the end result of this trip. In the meantime . . . . . I carry on.
My plans for Greece have changed slightly. I had thought just to go across to Thessaloniki from Igoumenitsa and then on to Istanbul and turn left. I am now thinking of seeing a bit more of Greece and so may well take the boat to Patra and go around Greece and then on, directly to Cyprus, or southern coast of Turkey and to Cyprus. Let's see, shall we?
I cycle along and I realise I am thinking 'life is good'. :-) I hope it is for you too.