A circuitous route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Stage One beginning in Munich, Germany ending in Jerusalem - traveling through Austria, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. Second stage from Vienna, through Germany, Czech Republic, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain.
Final destination - Santiago!

Post Script: The changeable situation in Jerusalem has led to a change in plans. The Rome to Jerusalem leg of this journey has been changed to the 'End to End' in the UK, after which the journey will resume as above in Vienna.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

To Chartres

Leaving Paris turned out to be reasonably pleasant and straightforward.  I did of course have many kilometers of suburbs to negotiate, but the bars and cafes were frequent and so there were plenty of opportunities for food and drink breaks (which included toilet breaks), and rest stops.  It was pleasantly warm, so warm I chose to walk on the shady side of the street - different from just a few weeks ago when I always looked for the sun!  All went well until I was about a kilometer from Igny, the suburb (or almost a village) that I was headed to.  Disaster struck!  I could only limp, with tiny steps, but it wasn't my feet, it was my back!  I have no idea what I have done, or how I did it.  As far as I remember I never felt any untoward stretches, twists or pulls, but whatever caused it, the result is I haven't walked since, or nothing to speak of, and certainly not with a pack.

As I was passing I asked two young lads getting into their cars if they were headed to Igny, but they weren't.  I inched my way along only to be stopped 10 minutes later by a car pulling up.  "I can take you to Igny Miss" said one of the lads I'd spoken to before.  He'd obviously seen me struggling, driven round the block, and come back to help.  What wonderful kindness and generosity, which I met again at my next spot too.

Because I was in so much pain I caught a train and bus to Chevreuse, hoping that rest would fix things.  It didn't, and so I decided the best thing to do would be to catch a train to Chartres and spend several days resting.  The hotel owner closed the office and drove me the 3kms to the station "because you're sick".

I have had three days (four nights) in Chartres, and though my back is improved, it is by no means better, so it remains to be seen what happens next.
The flowers were well and truly out and on display as I walked through the suburbs.  This orange flower intrigued me.  I don't ever remember seeing one like this before.
A avenue of honour on the outskirts of Paris, near Antony.
These hyacinths were just a mass of color and reminded me of jewell's.
A castle overlooking Chevruese.

In between resting I have had a good look, though slow, at this beautiful city.  It is famous for its cathedral, which contains beautiful stained glass windows and the largest labyrinth in the country.  

The cathedral stands on a site where there have been a number of cathedrals ( five, I think).  The current gothic one took only 30 years to build, and was built after lightning, in 1194, struck the spire which in turn collapsed onto the Romanesque cathedral, destroying it.  

The windows in the cathedral are famous for the quality and shade of blue glass in them.  In 1940 it took 15 days to remove all the windows to protect them.  They were stored in the crypt, and in caves in the Dordogne, before being returned after the war.
Pilgrim signs in Chartres.

The labyrinth can only be seen in its entirety on Fridays.  I walked it on Friday morning, along with dozens of others.  Following the track around, it is over 240 metres in length.
Walking the labrynth.

Chartres cathedral and some of the stained glass windows.  Note the blue glass.

The Chartres Cathedral (above and below) sits on a hilltop and it is said that on a clear day the spires can be seen from as far away as 30kms.

Chartres has a light (and sound) event after dark, from mid April till the end of October - Chartres en lumières.  The cathedral is one of the many buildings with animated illuminations, lasting about 15 mins a cycle.  The little tourist train does a tour around the city of all the buildings that are illuminated, passing both simple and complex illuminations.  I enjoyed seeing the drawings of famous (though I didn't recognize many) people shown on buildings they had associations with.
 Just two of the illuminations on the cathedral.  At times it was quite animated with "figures" abseiling down the building.

St Pierre church was stunning in the afternoon sunshine.
I'm staying in the St Yves hostellerie, the pointed roofed building, and my room looks across at the cathedral spire (unseen, but on the right of the photo).


Paris!  A grand city. I got a real feel for it as I negotiated my way through the streets from St Denis.  There were people everywhere, and with the help of good old google maps I made it straight to the hotel, late (9.30pm) and very weary, having tramped along tarmac for most of the day.  I had a hotel in the Montmartre district and spent the first day wandering around doing chores and sightseeing in the process.  

The first chore was the washing which was easy as there was a laundromat just around the corner.  My next chore was a little more difficult and in fact I never resolved it.  That was to try and sort out my technology problems.  No one could help me at the stores I went to, and since then it seems to have fixed itself, so here's hoping it stays that way.

My third chore was to find a guide book to get me to the city of Tours, which I found, but via Chartres, which I never did find.  However as I wandered from place to place, store to store I saw many interesting things.

The final chore was to buy some sandals and a summer weight skirt.  Again, no success until I decided to stay an extra day because I was so late leaving.  I stopped at a cafe to have some breakfast and use the WiFi to find a hotel on the other side of the Seine.  Here I had an interesting diversion chatting to a woman from Abu Dhabi.  A brave woman as she was waiting for the birth of her twins any day, and she was doing some final homework on her verbal PhD thesis presentation.  She was hoping that nerves didn't bring on the birth during her exam!

I stayed that night on the edge of Montparnasse and wished that's where I'd stayed the whole time.  I also had success with the clothes I was looking for as I found an amazing camping shop.  I actually went there in the hope that I would pick up the elusive guide book but no luck.  This camping shop was not one, but many small shops and I kept being re-directed down or up the street or around the corner on the right or left!  

On my second day in Paris I visited a couple of monuments and took a boat trip on the Seine.  I went to Notre Dame, and decided that I really didn't want to see inside that much because the queue's stretched across the square, but later in the day when I was passing the queue's had gone and I went straight in.

Out of curiosity I measured how far I walked on my rest days in Paris and each day I walked just shy of 20kms.  At least it was without a pack!

Enough words from me.  I'll let the pictures tell the tale.
The Cité des Sciences is a place of color, interesting play spaces for young and old, and full of life.

Opposite my bedroom, on the fifth floor, it was moving day (above and below).

Galleries Lafayette is not just one shopping store, but a number, linked.  This was the sight inside one of the buildings.
The Conciergerie (above and below) is one of the important buildings in Paris. It was initially part of the Royal Palace, then housed the prison.  It was here that Marie Antoinette was imprisoned and met her execution.

Also part of this former grand Royal Palace is the extraordinary gothic building called La Sainte-Chapelle, built by Louis IX.  The stained glass windows in this building are wonderful.

The exterior of La a Sainte- Chapelle
My first sight of the monumental Eiffel tower (above), and below the view from the Seine.

Notre- Dame de Paris.
The Louvre and its pyramid in the setting sun.
Soaking up the Paris sunshine.
The Hôtel de Ville.
From the Seine a view of Tour St-Jacques, all that remains of the church of St-Jacques (James).

St Jacques, atop the tower.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Saint Quentin, to Compiegne, and onto Paris.

I have already told you how I stayed with Sylvie and her family in Belgium.  Not only did she loan me her guide books for the rest of the path through Belgium, but I downloaded two other guides from her website for the journey from Saint- Quentin to Paris which made life very easy.

The tourist office in Saint Quentin, as helpful in 2015 as they were in 2011, helped me find accommodation for the first night after leaving town.  This was in a special pilgrim friendly place, though I don't think it was called a refuge, it certainly had a peaceful feel about it.  Getting there I had to use my navigation skills, as I have had to on most days into Paris.  I occasionally saw signs, and then they dissapeared for hours.  However, apart from one minor unintended detour of a couple of kilometers I eventually made it to my night's rest spot in the village of Tugny-et-Pont.
 The Saint Quentin canal, the only part of this journey I have walked before, though in 2011 I actually walked along the road on the other side.  This was much more pleasant.
 The brown critter and I took a mutual dislike to each other!  It began when he came up behind and head butted me.  Every time I turned my back on him he would start chasing me, and I had to walk backwards each time I went outside.  I resorted to shouting "no" to it, which was such a surprise it stopped in its tracks!  I'm glad no-one else was there!
 My brown friend was out of sight and so I could take this peaceful scene from near my "bungalow" at Ms Noblesse's on the outskirts of  Tugny-et-Pont.
 Ms Noblesse had references to St Jacques everywhere including this statue in front of what was the old mill.  The river is the Somme.
 After leaving Tugny-le-Pont I had to navigate my way on roads like this leading across fields. At one point I missed a turn, but managed to find my way back without having to retrace my steps.
This splendid gateway led to a cropped field.  No road, or house to be seen!
 The pollarded trees have yet to get their leaves.  A lovely place for shelter from the hot sun in a month or so.

The path led to the town of Noyon with a grand cathedral.  I ended up staying in a hotel right opposite the Cathedral, but it was Sunday, and as usual little was open.  I resorted to a takeaway pizza for dinner which I had in my room.  Sundays in France can be a bit scary as very little is open.  I persuaded Ms Noblesse to book a room for me before I left that morning so that at least I knew I had a bed.  It is warming up, but still a bit too cold to risk sleeping outside!
 A fresco inside the cathedral in Noyon, and the interior of the cathedral (below).

 Noyon cathedral and war memorial.
 John Calvin the protestant theologian whose teachinga played a part in the reformation was born here in Noyon.

After the canals in the UK, the canals in France come as a surprise.  They are so wide by comparison, and as on the rivers in Holland and Belgium, the barges traveling them move with considerably more speed.  I could easily walk faster than the barges in the UK, but here, even running I doubt I would get ahead of them.  The waves created as they pass can be heard sloshing against the canal sides for many minutes after they have gone.
Heading under the bridge and along the canal.  The red and white GR sign is on the pillar on the left.
This is not a wall, but barges lined up end to end at the side of the canal.
The path followed along the grassy banks of the canal towards Compiegne.
 The Mairie in Compiegne, with its fancy bell tower.......
......and the three little men who strike the bells every quarter hour!  Note the diminishing sizes - the pitch was "mi, re, doh" - or "hot cross buns"!
The pilgim refuge, under the church, in Compiegne was a wonderful place - beds, not bunks, complete with a well equipped kitchen (not that I used it), and most importantly a warm welcome with lots of advice for the days to come.

From Compiegne there were only a few days into Paris.  A lot of that time was spent walking through forest, and indeed I have been really surprised at how much forest there is.  On that first day out of Compiegne the path led, in a straight line, for 12.5kms through forest, and that doesn't include the forests on the other side of the city and the forest to come.  Even on the last day when walking into Paris there were several kilometers of forest before reaching the suburbs.

The forests are laid out, as they have been the whole way through Belgium and France, in a very symmetrical pattern.  Leaving Compiegne on the 12.5 kms of forest tracks many of the signposts were set on a plinth.  A real bonus because the provided a seat to sit and rest on!

At the edge of the forest after leaving Compiegne there were some roman ruins.  A temple, a thêatre, and a thermes.  I took some time wandering around before heading off across the fields to my Chambre d'Hôte in the village of Orrouy.  Madame was very kind and packed a picnic lunch for me the next morning as there were no shops until Senlis, my destination for the day.  This day only had a tiny bit of forest, most of the day being taken up with walking on a roman road straight through fields, with little shelter from sun or wind, neither of which were too bad, fortunately.
A forest sign, and my lunch rest spot!
Looking towards the thêatre from the thermes (bath house) at the roman ruins, not far from Orrouy.
The shell sign was somewhat infrequent, and has been white, rather than yellow. This is the exit from the village of Béthisy Saint-Martin, the last patch of forest before reaching the 10kms of roman road.
These vines have been espaliered against the wall, presumably to make use of the warmth of the stone.
The fields have been poughed and the irrigation is ready to roll.  The road continued straight just like this for 10kms!
Shopping time in Senlis.
Senlis Cathedral.
The sun is not far off setting and I still have over 4kms to go before reaching the night's destination in le Mesnil Aubry.  Heading towards the village of Fontenay en Parisis, and the flight path!
At some stage the path has to cross the things needed for a big city, things like busy motor ways, high speed train lines, and in this case under the power lines.
The forest at Sarcelles, the last forest to walk through before hitting suburban Paris.  Note how green this forest has become compared to the one at Compiegne, only a few days earlier.
Reflections from the stained glass windows in the beautiful Basilica at Saint Denis, on the way into Paris.
Heading into Paris the path took me past the football stadium, looking like a giant space ship, and along the canal.
People walked and cycled along the canal, and further along they picnicked in their droves and played skittles and pétanque.  For a while it was quite an obstacle course!
This is  working canal though, and here the cement trucks are lined up.
The way led through the science park, with people walking, skating, cycling, chatting and playing on the many things to entertain, but more of that later.

Walking into Paris was more pleasant than I expected.  It was a very long day though and I eventually reached my hotel at 9.30pm!  Because it was such a mild evening people had come out to enjoy themselves.  There was hardly an inch of space along the canal.  I walked between the picnickers who sat on the edge of the canal with bottles of wine and little snacks and then the teams of pétanque players on the other side, and on the other side of them, the cyclists. Pétanque is a game played by all.   I have seen the older men playing in the villages, but this night it was the young people who were playing, in their dozens.  Sprinkled amongst them were teams of skittle players.  These skittles are not like I am used to but rather shaped like a piece of giant dowell with an end cut off at an angle, and rather than rolling a ball to knock them over another type of skittle is thrown at them.

My technology problem seems to have resolved itself for the time being so have now put photos on the previous posts.  I just hope it remains sorted.  More about Paris, and beyond, next time.