Category Archives: Chemin du Puy

Stained Glass on the Chemin du Puy: A Photo Essay


[Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel]

Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel, Le Puy-en-Velay.

I don’t normally spend a lot of time in churches—or any other buildings dedicated to religion—but when I walked the Chemin du Puy, I stopped at just about every church and cathedral that was open along the way.

In some cases, they were true places of refuge: they let me escape the heat—and later the cold—of the walk. When I walked into my first city and was overwhelmed by the traffic and general busy-ness, I fled to the cathedral with its shafts of stained glass-tinted light.

The churches and cathedrals I stopped at were places of beauty, somewhere to sit and think, and maybe even pray.

I liked the oldness of them, and the simplicity. And I loved the windows with their stained glass.

These photographs—arranged in geographical order—are my celebration of those buildings and their wonderful windows.

[Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel]

Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel, Le Puy-en-Velay

[A church in Saugues]

St. Peter at a church in Saugues.

[Windows in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole]

Modern stained glass in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole: 1) Mary; 2) A detail of the same window;
3) Joseph and Jesus.

[Church in Saint-Côme-d'Olt]

Crucifix in the church in Saint-Côme-d'Olt.

[In Saint-Côme-d'Olt]

The same church in Saint-Côme-d'Olt.

[Stained glass abstract]

Also at the church in Saint-Côme-d'Olt.

[Church of Sainte-Radegonde]

The Church of Sainte-Radegonde in Saint-Félix.

[Saint-Jean-Mirabel]

The church in Saint-Jean-Mirabel.

[Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur]

The Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur in Figreac—where I fled to escape the city.

[Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur]

The Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur in Figeac again.

[Cahors Cathedral]

The Cahors Cathedral.

[Organ pipes]

Organ pipes at the church in Lauzerte.

[Stained glass in Lectoure]

A church in Lectoure.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 8:54 am
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A Slow Camino: Interview with Robert Townshend


[Stone wall]

The Causses in spring: a great place for a slow walk.
Photo courtesy Robert Townshend.

I recently came across Robert Townshend’s SlowCamino blog, which he describes as “an account of one pilgrim’s sluggish progress toward Compostela.”

Rob, an Australian, walked from Le Puy-en-Velay to Pamplona in April and May 2009, and his blog documents the journey in retrospect.

Rob describes himself as “a dawdler, a daydreamer, a mucker-about. An impurist.” His blog is a mix of travelogue, practical advice, history, and observations on slow Camino travel—which, in his case, involved walking the Chemin du Puy in about sixty days without, he claims, losing any weight.

As I started reading SlowCamino, I thought I might like to interview Rob. When I read the following, I was sure of it.

I distinguished myself in the company by having travelled half the distance of the other pilgrims at our large table. They must have been impressed, since they all wore surprised expressions when told I’d come only from Estaing. I was then treated with a kind of embarrassed benevolence, especially when I declared my intention of stopping at Senergues the next day, only twelve kilometres distant.

I must admit to a tinge of competitiveness the next morning. A young lady was dawdling in the foyer, in an obvious attempt to be the last to leave.

That’s my gig, honeybunch!

When I e-mailed Rob, I discovered he’s about to embark on the next leg of his slow journey: Pamplona to Santiago on the Camino Francés, and Santiago to Tui on the Camino Portugués.

But he answered my questions quite speedily.

[Bread and cheese]

Rob writes: 'My lunch! One of the great edible joys of southern France is brebis, sheep's milk cheese. I love it in all its forms, Roquefort, Basque, Corsican or other—unpasteurised for preference.'
Photo courtesy Robert Townshend.

Anna-Marie: What made you decide to do a very slow Camino? What are the advantages of travelling so slowly?

Rob: I didn’t decide to do a slow Camino. I’m constitutionally slow, and merely build upon this god-given quality by heavy eating, aimless chatter, drinking lakes of tea, watching Fox etc. The advantage of travelling slowly is that you meet more people, and none of them feel badly about a person who is so easily overtaken. In particular, English males are delighted to get the best of an Australian in a physical pursuit—it happens so rarely!

You said on the forum: “Please be advised that serious dawdling requires a massive lack of focus and determination.” How did you maintain that lack of focus and determination?

Well, Anna-Marie, tonight’s preparation for the Frances and Portugues consisted of eating beef casserole, sunk into a lounge while watching the original 1974 Death Wish on an enormous TV screen. The combination of stewed steak and Charles Bronson has made me little more than an amoeba with hair.

This is ideal mental preparation for dawdling.

How many rest days did you take? What were your criteria for a good rest day location?

I’m guessing I took five or six rest days, usually in towns with a good food supply. In nice rural gîtes, like Montredon and that of our friends at Gîte Dubarry, one can be underfoot on a rest day. In towns, one can be out of people’s way.

[Snow on the Camino]

Even slow pilgrims have to trudge through snow. Writing about Aumont-Aubrac, Rob says: 'Wind, rain, snow, sleet, ice, mud... Did I leave anything out? Here’s the view from our last shared accommodation.'
Photo courtesy Robert Townshend.

Do you think a slow Camino is particularly difficult for men? What advice would you give men who wanted to cultivate, as you say, an Omega male attitude?

I find pilgrims of both sexes to be sprinters, men for obvious male reasons, women because they’re all a bit hyperactive. (Did I just break a Canadian law?)

Men who wish to cultivate an Omega male attitude should watch a lot of Humphrey Bogart movies … but model themselves on the Peter Lorre characters, not the Bogies. Just lying around watching old movies is pretty Omega.

As much as you can call any day on the Camino “typical,” how would you describe a typical slow Camino day?

You meet heaps of people. Really.

You write in your blog about walking twenty-seven kilometres in one day to keep up with friends, but many of the people you met ended up ahead of you. Were you ever tempted to permanently abandon your slow philosophy to keep up?

[Pilgrims]

Rob says: 'Here we are before the descent to Cajarc. The lady on the left was born in Clochemerle, which I had always believed to be a fictional town, subject of Gabriel Chevalier’s wonderful novel of small town politics centred on the erection of a public urinal. It seems that Clochemerle is real ... and the urinal is still there! More lessons of the Camino.'
Photo courtesy Robert Townshend.

It happened that my three friends that day were all doctors and had achieved much in their lives. I find achievement very fatiguing.

Maybe one’s Camino reflects one’s career and outlook, regardless of usual disclaimers about leaving accustomed life and attitudes behind. I was so lucky to link up with those three special people … but, no, I wasn’t tempted to abandon my dawdling. It’s what I do.

The big problem with dawdling is not losing friends, but having to make new friends daily. My chemin from Le Puy was a bloody conveyor-belt of acquaintances. Those who go slow will know.

What do you mean when you describe yourself as an impurist?

I’m a very conservative type in most things, so I believe in codes. I just don’t believe in manufacturing codes to make life more bothersome than it need be. The Camino should be fun, unless someone is paying you to do it in a certain way or to take on certain responsibilities.

At times I felt that there was some kind of Camino Calvinism in operation, directed at people who were taking it easy, using luggage services, taking easy routes. Also, though many of these purists are charming people, in conversation they can be a touch single-minded. They need to lay off, lighten up.

[Pamplona]

Pamplona, where Rob ended his last Camino ... and will begin his next Camino later this week. Stay tuned for his next blog installment.
Photo courtesy Robert Townshend.

You’re heading back to Pamplona to continue your trip to Santiago at the end of this month. Are you going to continue your blog?

I blog when I get back home. Nothing must interfere with the dawdling when it is being dawdled.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Do you have any other advice for aspiring slow pilgrims?

The great golfer Ben Hogan refused to help younger players because he felt he was self-made and shouldn’t have to create competition for himself. I feel the same way. It will be a bitter day for me when someone completes the Chemin du Puy in over sixty days.

I know it will happen eventually, but why should I help someone steal my crown?


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:41 am
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The Chemin du Puy with No French: Agnes Chun


Agnes

Agnes Chun, relaxing in a gîte d'étape after a long day's walk.

A lot of pilgrims on the Camino Francés speak very little Spanish, but it’s harder to get by on the Chemin du Puy with only a few words of French. It’s even more difficult when your first language isn’t English.

But my Korean pilgrim friend Hyun-Jung (Agnes) Chun managed it, when she walked from Le Puy-en-Velay to Santiago de Compostela in autumn 2008.

Earlier this month, Agnes kindly agreed to answer my questions about her journey on the Chemin du Puy.

Anna-Marie: Was it very difficult walking in France without speaking French?

Agnes: As you know, I only know few French words. I can’t even make any French sentences. However it worked to survive there.

We can live there carrying just a 10kg rucksack, and language is exactly like belongings. The key is in our sincere heart to communicate. Of course if I could speak French, I’d have had richer experiences definitely. But the conclusion is never changed. It’s difficult but it’s not difficult to walk in France.

How did you communicate with hospitalier(e)s, shopkeepers, and other people you really needed to communicate with?

I listed just a few words to say what I needed. Sometimes I drew a picture or used my body when I had no idea of the French words. But I was not nervous about communicating with them because I met people who could translate for me whenever I need them.

How did you ask for directions?

In France, the way marking is very clear. Just followed red and white lines. But I lost the direction just one time in Pomps. I could not find any way marks or pilgrims. I was almost in a panic. It was an even worse situation when there was no one who could speak English. I met several old men who worked in the wheat field but they barely understood me.

Finally I showed them the shell on my backpack and shouted “Compostelle! Compostelle!” And then they pointed their fingers in the right direction.

Did you reserve your bed in gîtes d’etapes in advance? How?

Mostly I reserved beds in advance. I took my cell phone for reserving accommodation. Speaking on the phone was more difficult than “face to face,” but they could understand. For example, I just said like this: “Une pèlerine, demain, réservation!” It’s really ridiculous, but I didn’t have any other choices.

Sometimes I asked other pilgrims who could speak French to help, but otherwise I always said the above. But one of my friends told me the tourist office could make a reservation for pilgrims.

Did you meet many people you could speak English or Korean with?

Well… I’ve never met a Korean speaker in France. Koreans usually walk only the Camino Francés from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. (But I met only five Koreans even in Spain!) It’s not difficult to find English speakers in France. Most pilgrims could speak English, especially the Germans, the Belgians and the Dutch. But I was sorry that I could not chat with locals.

Was it lonely often being surrounded by French speakers?

After dinner the “French Talking” started in the gîtes every night. For the first few days I tried to stay at the “French Talking table” but it was very stressful. For me, “English talking” is also very difficult… (English is a foreign language to me.) Oh God, French talking? Haha. Loneliness was the second matter.

A funny situation occurred in Spain. I had very close German friends in Spain. One night, there were eight Germans and the only Korean: me. We started to talk in English at first, but the main language changed to German. After an hour, I was a stranger again.

Would you recommend the Le Puy route to others who can’t speak French?

Sure. You should not miss a big and powerful present due to a very small obstacle. Don’t be a fool.

What was the most difficult thing about walking the Le Puy route?

It was a physical matter. Before walking the Camino, I’d walked less than five minutes a day during last seven years. I exercised for one month before leaving Korea, but it’s not enough to walk around 20 km per day.

I felt it would be impossible to finish this walking during the first few days. Stomachache, heartache, blisters, ankle pain and back pains… But I realized that it wasn’t only my own problem but it was the same for all others. I asked my friend who started from his door in Munich, Germany where the most difficult part of the whole way to walk was. His answer was “from Le Puy to Conques.” But don’t panic, it gets easier to walk. I am not sure if it’s for geographical reasons or because my body adapted.

[Cows in the Aubrac]

Cows in the Aubrac, along the Chemin du Puy.

What was the best part?

I think every moment, every single place and even my tears on the road were magnificent presents for my life. However, if I had just a couple of days to walk on the Le Puy route, I’d like to choose the Aubrac region. As I mentioned above, it’s a really hard course but it deserves to be walked again.

But I don’t want to meet the giant cows. I’m scared of them.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I met a French guy in Nogaro. He could not speak English but he was try to tell me something. In my understanding, he criticized my poor French. He said I would never understand their lives, their history or themselves because I could not speak French. He spoke in a very bad manner so my friends yelled at him in French, but I couldn’t help agreeing with him partly. If I spoke French better, I could communicate with French speakers, especially locals, and then get a broad and wide knowledge and experience. It’s irrefutable truth.

However, language is just a means and the open heart can get over all the language issues. My experience prove this….

* * *

You can read more about Agnes’s experiences in her blog. She hasn’t gotten around to translating it in to English yet, so you’ll need to either be able to read Korean or use an internet translator.


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Gîtes d’étapes: Budget Accommodation on the Chemin du Puy


[A gîte d'étape]

A bed in a gîte communal in a historic building in Saint Côme d'Olt . (There were other beds in the room.)

Gîtes d’étapes in France are hostels for hikers or walkers. I’m writing about the ones along the Chemin du Puy (GR-65) because those are the ones I’m familiar with. I’d imagine the gîtes on other routes are relatively similar.

If you’re used to Camino albergues in Spain, you’ll find gîtes downright luxurious. If you’re used to five-star hotels … gîtes are a few steps down from that. They always have dorm rooms, and some have private rooms at a higher cost.

Gîtes vary quite widely. Some have bunk beds for dozens of people in a single dorm (although in my experience this was the exception rather than the rule), while others have four—or occasionally even two!—single beds. Most have kitchens you can use, and some provide meals. When I was there in 2008, they generally cost 7 to 15 € per person per night.

They all (in my experience) provide blankets, but they don’t have top sheets, so if you don’t have a sleeping bag, you’ll at least need a sleeping bag liner. Also, if you’re travelling in colder weather, you’ll probably want a sleeping bag because there might not be enough blankets to keep you warm.

There are gîtes at regular intervals along the Chemin du Puy. The only problem with the spacing is that sometimes you have to choose between walking around 15 kilometres and walking 25 or more kilometres. And if you’re not in great shape to start out with, 25 kilometres feels like a seriously long way when you have to traverse steep slopes.

Unlike most albergues in Spain, you don’t have to leave French gîtes by 8 a.m. or so. If there is a check-out deadline, it’s around 10 a.m. or later. Most people seemed to leave around 8 a.m. anyway, though, at least in fall when I was walking.

When I walked the Chemin du Puy two years ago, few gîtes had Internet access. In cities, you can always find Internet cafés, although they may not be close by. In Conques, the tourist information office has a few Internet stations. In smaller places, you’re probably out of luck if you want to get on-line.

There are two main types of gîtes: municipal (gîtes communaux—singular: communal) and private (gîtes privés).

[Laundry outside a gîte d'étape]

My laundry hanging outside the same gîte pictured above, in Saint Côme d'Olt.

Municipal Gîtes

Municipal gîtes are generally cheaper than their private counterparts. They tend to be—but aren’t necessarily—more bare-bones than the private gîtes. Some are in gorgeous historic buildings, while others are more basic.

Often you can let yourself in, and a local person stops by to collect your money, although occasionally you have to find someone to let you in.

Municipal gîtes don’t usually offer food, although some in villages without grocery stores have a small selection of food you can purchase.

Private Gîtes

These are usually more expensive, and tend to feel a little more luxurious. All the ones I stayed in were in nice buildings.

[A private gîte]

A dorm room in a private gîte, the Gîte Dubarry, on a farm between Nogaro and Aire-sur-L'Adour. The building wasn't much to look at from the outside, but the owners were restoring it beautifully inside, with carvings and stained glass. I fell completely in love with it.

Usually the hospitalier(e) (I don’t think there’s an exact English equivalent for this—it literally seems to mean the person who offers you hospitality, like hospitalero/a in Spanish) lives in the building. They almost always offer food: breakfast and a multi-course dinner. Demi-pension, or half-board, includes both meals and a bed. When I was on the Chemin two years ago, this cost around 30 €.

In my experience, breakfast was pretty bare-bones, with coffee and tea, white bread, butter, a variety of jams, and sometimes yogurt. Sometimes the hospitalier(e) left it out, so you could serve yourself when you woke up. I thought dinner was always wonderful—though some (non-French) walkers complained about it being too rich.

I stayed at a few places where the hospitalier(e)s were really devoted to the Chemin/Camino, with Camino books and pictures or statues of Saint James. In two cases, they even had a little pilgrim talk/service, which I couldn’t really understand because my French isn’t that good.

Gîtes are great places to meet other walkers, and in some cases, local people.

The best source of up-to-date information about gîtes and other accommodation on the Chemin du Puy and some other routes are the Miam Miam Dodo guidebooks. The books on the routes from Le Puy and Arles are available from the Confraternity of Saint James bookshop, under “Books from Other Publishers.”


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:55 am
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Chemin to Camino Culture Shock


[Saint-Jean Sign]

A sign that told me I was a few hours from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

I went out for a walk today and just wanted to keep walking. I suppose I could have done it, too, but eventually I would have had to turn around. Walking around home is fine—I try to do it every day—but it’s not exactly the same as being on the Camino.

So I was feeling a little melancholy as I headed home, and I guess that’s why I started thinking about the transition between walking the Chemin du Puy in France and the Camino Francés in Spain. Mentally, it ended up being one of the most difficult parts of my journey.

Before I started walking, I basically saw the Chemin du Puy as an extension of the Camino Francés, which I’d read so much about I thought of as the real Camino. I walked from Le Puy because the 780 or so kilometres from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port didn’t seem like far enough.

Of course, all that had changed by the time I actually reached Spain. After almost six weeks in France, I appreciated the Chemin in its own right.

My last few days in France were particularly wonderful. I met some great people, and began, more or less, to leap small hills in a single bound. But I was still excited to reach Saint-Jean. I didn’t see it as the real start of my Camino any more, but I knew it would mark the beginning of something new.

What I’d forgotten was how difficult transitions can be. On the Chemin du Puy by the end of September, the fairly large number of walkers had slowed to a trickle. But crossing the Pyrenees, I was suddenly surrounded by pilgrim hordes, so many that it was hard to talk to any one person.

And there were so many other contrasts between the Chemin in France and the Camino in Spain. In retrospect, I can’t say I preferred one of the other, but rather enjoyed them both—sometimes in different ways. But for a few days after starting the Camino Francés, I really missed France.

I missed the cleanliness and the beautiful gîtes d’étapes that didn’t make me sleep right next to strangers. I missed the open churches where I used to stop and think. I missed the red and white waymarks of the GR-65 and rather resented the yellow arrows that had replaced them.

And it seemed like I had just grown used to speaking French when I had to make the transition to Spanish. My second night in Spain, I wrote:

My speaking is a mess. I try to speak Spanish, I know I know the words, but French comes out. I hadn’t realized how … not fluent, but at least how used to French I’d become…. I speak in this weird mélange that more or less works for now, but I have to train myself to automatically say “gracias” and “si” instead of “merci” and “oui.”

At the time, I’d also lost track of all my Chemin friends (I did catch up to some of them just after Pamplona), and I missed them. On most of the Chemin du Puy, I’d shared a common background with the other walkers, even if we’d never met. Now, I had no one to talk to about past experiences. I couldn’t say, “The Pyrenees weren’t as bad as the road out of Conques,” to the new pilgrims without sounding arrogant and irritating.

It was also strange to be at a different stage of my Camino than most of the people around me. I was at the halfway point, and beginning to really think about the experience and what it had meant so far. Everyone else was just starting out. It was such a relief to have someone to talk to about all this when a Frenchwoman I’d met once on Chemin du Puy walked into the refuge at Zubiri.

Of course, I soon got used to the Camino in Spain, and learned to love it—and its yellow arrows—too. I made more friends, most of whom had started in Saint-Jean, and we soon had a Camino history in common, too.

The biggest culture shock of all came when the Camino ended. The transition from France to Spain was from one part of the Camino to another, but going home meant returning to another world.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:51 pm
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Bon Courage and Buen Camino


[A Pilgrim in France]A few hours out of Le Puy-en-Velay on my first day on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques (Camino de Santiago), a white-haired Frenchman stopped me. We talked—briefly, since my French isn’t very good. And when I set out again, having told him I was walking to Santiago, he said, “Bon courage.”

I tried to translate that in my head, but all I could come up with was “Be of good courage,” which sounded archaic.

I didn’t think about it much then, but by the time I’d been walking through France for a few weeks, I decided English is seriously lacking in encouraging expressions with the word “good” in them. “Good luck” is the only one I can think of. We’ve appropriated “bon voyage” and “bon appétit” from the French, but rarely use them.

In France, when I would stop to eat a picnic lunch along the road, most of the passing walkers wished me bon appétit.

And of course I constantly heard “bon chemin” (the French equivalent of the “buen camino” you hear so often on the Camino in Spain) and “bonne route.” Both literally mean “good road,” but again we don’t have a great English translation. “Happy trails” is the closest I can come up with, and that sounds corny. “Have a good trip” sort of works, but it’s more general and doesn’t sound as good.

Maybe the solution to the lack in our language is to adopt more French sayings. And of course pilgrims to Santiago have already adopted “buen camino.” It really is easier to wish each other well, especially on vast undertakings like walking pilgrimages, when we have good words to do it with.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 11:39 am
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