Thursday, September 30, 2010

School's Out


Tomorrow is our last French class. In three weeks I think I have learned quite a bit. I am far more comfortable speaking in the past and the present. It has been really fun getting to know our classmates too, even though we are at least twice their age. Fortunately our maturity level puts us on an even footing with them all. I don't know how some of them do it. When Gord and I are heading to bed they are just arriving at the local party square.

It will be strange switching gears when we leave France and go to Spain. I am really looking forward to being back on the camino.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shiny New Bikes

Gord and I are now the proud owners of two shiny new bikes!!! We gave them a test run on the Canal du Midi this weekend and they seem fine. This Saturday we will head off on the Chemin de Arles.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Velo Toulouse

Toulouse is a city of bikes. They have velo stations everywhere and for very little you can pick up a bike, use it, and return it to any station when you are done. Since my back has loudly suggested that I not walk at all for a bit, I have become a velo enthusiast. The convenience for urban riding is amazing. You never have to worry about your bike being stolen or where to store it. You just hop on and off when and where you want. It is a very well used program here. I have been watching the station nearest us, and it empties and refills once and sometimes twice a day.

Not only can you rent bikes cheaply in Toulouse but you can buy them too. On Friday, Gord and I bought bikes and gear and will try to finish the camino pedaling rather than plodding. Does this mean I will have to rename the blog?!@?$#!!

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Taking it to the Streets

I love how the French take to the street en mass! Today there was a general strike in France in opposition to Sarkozy's pending legislation that changes the retirement age from 60 to 62. After class, equipped with our new labour vocabulary, Gord and I hit the streets to find the demonstrations. Unfortunately we found them a little late, and most of the workers had already dispersed. I started talking to a union group who were happy to unfurl their flags again for me for a picture. They also offered to give me Sarkozy. I offered to make an exchange for Stephen Harper; but unfortunately we couldn't come to terms.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No longer One of a Kind

So much for being unique, yesterday Gord and I went out for a mid-day meal with Ruth M. McDonald. No seriously, this is a small language school and there are two of us! Ruth is from Ireland and it was a blast to compare things including how she signs her name, to what our parents are like. When we first arrived at the school I was already signed up for a number of cultural events and was registered in a higher level of French than Gord. It turned out to be the other Ruth. I rarely meet Ruths at all and if I do they are older not younger, but the name must be making a comeback somewhere in the world, because there are now over 200 Ruth McDonalds on Facebook!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What is Canadian Food?

We had a very tough homework assignment today. We are to prepare a Canadian specialty for the class to try. Easier said than done… So what is Canadian cuisine anyway? We thought Nanaimo bars would be good because we only have a hot plate to cook on, but even the Carrefour, a large super market, didn't carry graham wafer crumbs or powdered sugar. They did however carry Bird's custard powder in the import section for the Brits. We suddenly realized that we could make rice Krispy squares, a Canadian delicacy, without too much trouble. We found a substitute for Kraft Jet Puffed marshmallows but, alas there were no Rice Krispy’s or any cereal even slightly similar. I wanted to just select items from all over the world, to reflect our cultural mosaic, but we finally settled on smoked salmon and cream cheese. We had a choice of smoked salmon from Norway, Ireland and Scotland. We settled upon the Scottish because I love their accents (the men not the fish).

Last year in France Gord and I tried to confirm a malicious English rumor regarding French cuisine. You should have seen the look of horror on our friend Fredric's face when I asked, " Est-ce que les Francais mangent les petite oiseaux qui chant?" Apparently not.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Passé Composé

Painting by Henri Martin in the Hotel de Ville, Toulouse

I am getting into the rhythm of living and learning in Toulouse. We spend four hours in the morning at our school Langueonze and then have the afternoon to explore the city. The school also offers a variety of cultural programs. Today we went on a tour of the old quarter and tomorrow we learn how to play boules or patanque as it is called in Occitan. Each day we are still walking 10 to 15km so I am making up some of the mileage I missed on the Camino. But now it's time to do my homework.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What is it about Teachers and September

The view from our apartment.

What is it about teachers and September? Here I was convinced that I wouldn't darken the door of a school for at least a few more months and now Gord and I are starting school tomorrow. We have our notebooks ready and our pens picked out. We both bought 2 and 3 euro t-shirts so we would have at least one change of clothes.
Right now I am just sipping wine and fixing us some spaghetti in our little apartment. Imagine the U of A residences and you get a sense of the architectural splendor of our new 250 square foot home. It is actually great, and has everything we need. School is about a 30 minute walk along the river or through the old section of town.

Pausing at Saint Jean Pied de Port

September 10, 2010
Larceveau - Saint Jean Pied de Port 19km
L'Esprit du Chemin
Today was one of the most beautiful days on the walk. Soft rolling hills slowly turned into bigger climbs, with the wall of the Pyrenees right in front of us. Saint Jean Pied de Port is another fantastic medieval town. It is suddenly a much more international place. At dinner in the Gite we had three south Koreans, a Slovenian, a Belgian, and a German Canadian. Most of the conversation was in English. It was a bit odd after so many days of complete French emersion.
Gord and I are both sad, about leaving the Camino, but also excited about our French course and living in Toulouse.

It is both sad and exciting

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Friday, September 10, 2010

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Music

September 9, 2010
Uhart-mixe - Larceveau 10km
Hotel Espellet, Larceveau

We are only 19 km away from Saint John Pied de Port and definitely well into le Pays Basque. The hills are getting bigger and I keep expecting to see Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews coming over a ridge with a bunch of children in tow. It looks a lot like Austria or Switzerland here except all the signs are in Basque. If last nights dinner is at all representative of Basque cooking than I love it. We had a pot of a rich and spicy sweet pepper sauce with cured ham and sausage. Yummy!BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Le Pays Basques

September 8, 2010
Navarrenx- Uhart-Mixe 32km
Gite Escargot, Uhart-Mixe
Navarrenx is reputed to have been the first town in France to be fortified with Italian style ramparts, in the 16th century. These are still largely extant, and you can walk around the town on the top of the wall. The town is charming, although you are followed everywhere by the same broadcast music, an initiative of the mayor. We were fortunate enough to be there during the American R&B hour.
During the 7+ hour walk to Uhalt-Mixe, the landscape changed from the gentle hills and extensive cornfields of the former Kingdom of Bearne to the larger hills, more frequent forests and livestock of the Pays Basque.
Gord wrote this blog because I didn't walk today. Instead I spent more time at our wonderful Gite with our host and Hospitalero Genevieve. It was perhaps one of the friendliest places yet and Genevieve was a big part of that.

Allergic to Water

September 7, 2010
La Sauvelade-Navarrenx 12km
Le Relais du Jacquet, Navarrenx
Oh now I know why the countryside looks so green and lush. This morning we had massive thunder and lightning storms which were accompanied by a huge amount of water. I assumed it would be short lived, but the rain continued for our entire walk and then stopped immediately upon our arrival. It was the kind of rain that left you "wet to the underwear" in a very short time (that is a technical meteorological measure). This is bizarre, but I seem to be allergic to rain. I had hives briefly wherever the rain had hit my legs the most. Anyone who knows Gord can just imagine how he responded when I told him I am allergic to water. With all his skepticism, however, he didn't offer any other scientific explanation. The hives did settle down fairly quickly and it looks like I will live.

Today Gord and I both took a small French test over the phone. We are taking a break from the Chemin and are now registered in a three week course in Toulouse. My back is getting better but I am still not up to the distances of some of the days on the route. We are both excited about improving our French, and we really like Toulouse. Now we just need to find a place to stay.
Ok, change that, I just booked a place. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thunder, Mist and Sun

Pomps-Abbay de Sauvelade 27km
The group we are traveling with right now is full of fun. I met up with them again this morning. They bought me coffee and in exchange all they asked for was the opportunity to stay in our Gite Canadienne (our house) for at least a month.

Today I walked the first 10 km with Gord and now he is continuing for another 17. I feel like I could do more, but I still want to play it safe. The landscape is getting prettier again, with many of the little villages set on hills and ridges. We had a huge thunder storm this morning which magically stopped in time for us to walk.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Les Ronfleurs or Those who Snore

Aire du l'Adour - D'Arzacq. 34km(Gord's not mine)

Gord and I are in D'Arzacq at the Gite communal- our first dormitory experience for this year.  There are only six beds in our room and thankfully they are not bunk beds.  Everyone traveling along the route right now is really nice, but they are all well into middle age and I am anticipating a loud night full of snoring.  I'm glad I brought some ear plugs!  These are the experiences that usually push us out of our comfort level just enough to make real connections with people.  Let's just hope the forging of those connections doesn't happen through a sleepless night full of snoring and farting.

I seem to be riding as much as I am walking but hopefully that will gradually change- if not, c'est la vie.

Ok, an update on the night: all was quiet in the dormitory and although I slept lightly, I did sleep.  Unfortunately we have been warned not to stay in the place we are going to tonight.  It is apparently one of the worst gites on the route.  Oh boy- but the distances make sense for us, so we will be brave.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Feet to earth

Nogoro-L'Aire sur L'Adour 24km
Gite Hospitalet Saint Jacques, -L'Aire sur L'Adour

Today we set out anticipating just doing a small day, but I was feeling stronger so we continued on. The chemin up to this point has been very pretty, but for the next three days we will be going through larger industrial farming areas with much less shade. The temperature is great however, and it only gets hot in the afternoon when we are usually near our final destination.
There are a lot of pilgrims staying here and we have met up with a group that we stayed with a week ago. This is part of the fun of the trip. As you get to know people you start looking for their names in the guest books at churches and Gites.BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Thursday, September 2, 2010

School Starts in France

Manceit to Just past Nogaro Today: 12 km
L'Arbladoise, pre de Nogaro

School has started again in France and I don't have the stomach cramps and jitters I usually have at this time of year.  Of course I made up for it with all my pre-trip nerves.  So to all the people out there who are back to school today or soon: good luck and I hope it is a wonderful and exciting year.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In sight of the Pyrenees

Eauze-Manciet Today 11km Total:129.5/550km
Hotel du Sport Chez Monique, Mancet

I am thrilled that I walked today.  Nothing too ambitious- but it feels good to be touching feet to earth again.  We can see the Pyrenees well now and it feels like we are moving into the Basque region.  There is more of a Spanish feel in the whole Gasgon area.  Manciet even has a very small bull ring. The advertisements claim the fights are "sans mets a meurt."  I guess that means they just make the bull really mad.
The temperature is perfect for walking and the route continues to be varied and interesting.  We are in a wine growing area and should head into a more industrial farming area soon.  We are wondering if the trail will thin out now that the kids are heading back to school.  It's a nice reminder of just how fortunate I am to be able to take a break from work.

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