Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Besancon to Vuillafans: Up!

Gordon - Today we were reminded that France has a third dimension - up. We are in the foothills of the Jura mountains, and suddenly we cannot wander at will on a network of secondary roads laid out on a two dimensional surface. While we must now follow river valleys, or pay a surcharge struggling over ridges, we are delighted to find ourselves in such a beautiful landscape. Much of the land is forested, and because there is a layer of limestone near the crest of the hills, there are numerous white cliffs above us.
We passed through the town of Ornans this afternoon, famous as the hometown of the painter Courbet. It was easy to see where he may have gained some of his inspiration, as a continuous line of houses built out over the river defined its banks, while above the town buildings topped the white cliffs.

We have covered over 800 km at this point, but we only have time for four more days of walking/riding. This will permit us to get to Lausanne. We cross into Switzerland the day after tomorrow, and we are already starting to feel the influence of that country. Some of the houses have an alpine look, the cows have bells, the price of accommodation is rising, and Ruth is starting to yodel.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Gy to Besancon

Ok things are getting hilly! Lots of climbing today with more ahead. We now only have five more days to Laussane, where our pilgrimage ends for this year.
Now it is time to relax.

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Dampierre-sur-Salon to Gy

"Madam, voulez vous regarder l'eglise?" she asked with a huge hopeful smile on her face. When I responded positively she ran home to fetch the key. Skipping back with two others in tow she very seriously opened the church and escorted me inside. She seemed to be as impressed as I was by the well preserved 12th century church. It turns out my tiny guide is just visiting this town too and staying with friends who watch out for church visitors. After the tour I settled on a bench for my lunch and before I could say, "I love French cheese," my little friend was back, asking if I wanted any pizza, water or coffee. I agreed to a petite cafe which was delivered by the lady of the house on a tray.

We arrived in Gy in time to visit the chateau and have a drink in the square before heading back to the gite for dinner. We received very special treatment at Gite de la Fontaine. When I called, our host explained that the gite was full with a group of 12 Germans hiking on the Chemin de St. Jacques, but that they would give us a room with them and feed us dinner.

The room turned out to be theirs, and the dinner was a lovely feast of local fair. We sat and talked all evening as if we were old friends. What a lovely evening!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Champlitte to Dampierre-sur-Salon

What a perfect day! This morning we left Champlitte to connect the dots between beautiful villages strung out along the gorgeous Salon valley. It rained last night leaving everything lush and sparkling when the sun came out. We changed our planned route slightly to see the village of Montot when a sign indicated that it is listed as a historical monument. The town was wonderful with the remains of a 15th century fortified chateau. But what made the day extraordinary was meeting Henriette & Alain and being invited to share a meal with them.

They had also walked the camino in Spain and kept a watchful eye for pilgrims passing their house. We had lunch in the 17th century farm house that Henriette had grown up in. After the meal, which included perhaps the best wine we have ever tasted, Alain walked with us to the next town.
While the landscape, history, food and wine are all excellent reasons to visit France, the warmth of the people we meet is what keeps bringing us back to this country.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Langres to Champlitte - Changing Architecture

Gordon - As we have crossed northern France we have noticed significant changes in the architecture of houses and public edifices. Some of this is dictated by the availability of materials (brick in Pas de Calais versus stone in areas further east), some reflects history (everything in the Somme region was built in the 1920's after being leveled in World War I), but some just appears to reflect local taste. For example, we passed through an area where exposed timber, bearing a resemblance to Tudor style, was popular. There was another region where many buildings had root cellars with beautiful stone frames for the access doors. Most unexpected of the local preferences, however, are the roof tiles on churches in the Franche Comte region, which we recently entered. The tiles appear to be glazed, come in a variety of bright colours, and are often arranged in complex, repeating patterns. The roof of the cathedral in Langres has a pattern that resembles the machine readable ikons that have become common. I can imagine extraterrestrials flying over the cathedral and reading the code as "Christian house of worship", or perhaps "take home a family pack of tasty carbon based life forms today".

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Thursday, July 26, 2012


Langres has been a real treat. It well deserves its ranking in the fifty most beautiful cities in France. It is our favorite city so far. In spite of the heat we still had to do the 3.5 kilometer walk around the cities ramparts. In every direction there are beautiful views of French farmland, hills, and forests.

This is an exceptionally beautiful area of France.

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Mormant to Langres: Pilgrim Privileges

If I ever come back to France as a regular tourist it will be quite a shock. The pilgrim welcome or l’acceuil du Pélerin is a very special thing. Whether it comes in the formalized welcomes at the cathedrals of the larger cities or the simple exchanges with locals in villages, we are treated as honorees guests. For example,this morning I stopped to wait for Gord in the beautiful village of Leffonds. I found a shady spot in the main square and was immediately approached by a gentleman who wanted to know if I was going to Rome. He then offered me coffee or water. Soon his wife arrived and she asked if I needed anything and then continued to ask why I was doing the pilgrimage. I was honest and told her that although I am not religious there is something spiritual about these routes. They are much more than grande randonnes and somehow seem to help me gain a perspective that I need to live in our modern world. That answer seemed to be acceptable to her as she nodded with appreciation. Her husband then went inside to bring out the post card that they had received from another pilgrim who made it to Rome. After once more offering me anything that I needed, Gord arrived and we went on our way.

Tonight we are staying with the Priests at the Presbytery in Langres and again the welcome has been warm and generous. We have a room that looks out on the cathedral, a small kitchen and yes (reverent pause) a shower. For this privilege we have payed 10 euros. Now Langres is an expensive and touristy town. When we tried to book a hotel they were fully booked with the exception of a suite for 250 euros!! The pilgrim privilege however is about much more than the obvious monetary benefits - it is an genuine friendliness and respect that is given to us everywhere we go.

This is why I seem to be addicted to pilgrimages- for the daily reminders that people are good and humanity is an awe inspiring thing.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Bar-sur-Aube to Clairvaux to Chateauvillian: Medieval Touches

I am making my husband very happy tonight. Now don't worry, I am not about to say anything inappropriate. I am making my husband happy because tonight is our third night in free accommodation. This area has really embraced pilgrim hospitality with either the Marie or the church offering very basic places. Last night we stayed at the Presbytery in Bar-sur-Aube. It was as nice as any Chambre d’Hotes for one. I say one because there was only one single bed. Gord was a true gentleman however and slept on a thermarest on the floor. Tonight we have two beds and lots of space but no shower or hot water. A touch of medieval hygiene to add an air of authenticity to our trip.

We had hoped to stay in in the only other place in town, the highly recommend chambre d’hotes run by an English couple, but after several calls with no reply we settled in here. They also operate a wonderful restaurant which must keep them away from answering or checking messages. After a dinner of the best duck I have ever eaten the owner asked where we were staying. He sheepishly acknowledged that he should be checking his telephone messages.

It all worked out very well however and other than smelling a bit more than usual we both had a great sleep. Tonight, however, I will shower!

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Brienne-le-Chateau to Bar-sur-Aube: Summer Has Arrived

How quickly we forget the cold weather now that summer is really here. There wasn't a cloud in the sky all day today. The area has also transformed from a flat plain into the rolling green hills and valleys surrounding the river Aube.

We said goodbye to Paulo this morning as he headed off for a side trip to Troyes and a rest day. We spent a lovely evening last night together at the free pilgrim gite in Brienne-le-Chateau. We bought all sorts of treats from the boulangerie and Paulo made an improvised spaghetti carbonara. Washed down with wine and great conversation it was a lovely evening.

I decided to test drive my expensive new air mattress to great disappointment. By one in the morning I bailed on the experiment and climbed onto one of the beds. I guess this princess has a back not made for camping any more. I still think if I can rig the right pillows duck tape and bungie chords I should be able to camp comfortably.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chalons-en-Champagn to le Meix-Tiercelin to Brienne-le-Chateau: Straight

Roman Roads are straight!
Ruth: We have spent the last two days primarily on the Roman Road. This is the original route between Canterbury to Rome. These roads were built long before the pilgrims, and for war and empire not faith. These roads are so well built, and their routes so well chosen that most are now buried underneath the tarmac of main highways.
These roads are straight. So straight that at any point I could throw down a compass and it would always be going directly south.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Bouzy to Chalons-en-Champagne: Gliding along the Canal

Ruth - The only thing better than a hard packed grassy towpath to ride along is a paved one and today I had some of each. Twenty of our twenty-five kilometers were spent gliding along the Canal de Marne into Chalons-en-Champagne. Gord and Paolo walked together as I rode ahead and periodically stopped and waited for them. During our picnic at one of the locks we were treated to two boats going through. The second boat was owned by an Australian who offered us a lift into town. We declined but later ran into him in the central square.
It was another lovely evening beginning with champagne from Bouzy shared three ways in plastic cups on a park bench. Dinner afterwards was a gluttonous feast of choucroute ie sauerkraut accompanied by a farm yard full of dead animals.

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Reims to Bouzy(really)

It was a beautiful 30 km walk today. The first 10 km were on the towpath along a canal. We then passed though a series of cute towns nestled in thousands of acres of vineyards. Champagne is the life blood of this area. In one town, population 1100, there are no less than 80 champagne houses. This is Disneyland for wine aficionados, with champagne tastings, champagne shops, a champagne museum, and the odd incidentals of the tourist trade, such as a lighthouse 400 kilometres from the sea. However, caught up in the the spirit of the region we did pick up a 19€ bottle of local bubbly in the aptly named town of Bouzy.

Time for an update on the Tour de Valise. Today as I climbed through the forest I was unable to dodge the Danish media and a group of fans lying in wait for me. Ok, they were really waiting for a group of Danish cyclists enroute to Paris on a fundraising ride for kids with cancer. They offered me coffee and Danish sweets to take and share with Gord. The treats made our forest picnic into an event. It’s important to feed Gordon before he gets mean (please see attached picture of Gordon before feeding time).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reims: Champagne

When in Champagne one must tour a Champagne house and taste their product. We chose the Taittinger house and were not disappointed. Taittinger is located over what was both a 4th century chalk mine and the subterranean remains of a Benedictine Abbey. Perfect conditions for the fermentation of Champagne.

In the afternoon we visited the Cathedral and appreciated the pilgrim's welcome there. Champagne even figures prominently in the cathedral with huge stain glass windows depicting the cultivation of the grapes and the process of making the bubbly. We were also treated to the Chagall windows in one of the chapels.

Later we reunited with Philippe and his friend Claude for a lovely dinner. Afterwards we hunted down Paola who we heard was staying at the youth hostel. We surprised him at his door and invited him to join us for some Champagne - generously brought by Claude. It was a perfect way to celebrate together.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Corbeny to Reims: Not all Roads lead to Rome

Not all roads lead to Rome as it turns out. I left Corbeny shortly after Gord and headed off confidently in what turned out to be northeast. It was the right road just the wrong direction. I realized my error about 4km out but with a map in hand I didn't want to retrace my steps so I compounded the problem with a 20 km tour of the surrounding area. Roads are generally well
marked in France but today when I needed them they were not. When I met Gordon several hours later be had walked 12.5 km and I had cycled 33! So much for bicycle efficiency. We are now in Reims where we will stay for two nights to enjoy a rest day and see the sights.

I seem to not have much luck buying a replacement pair of cycle shorts. The ones I bought today are a wee bit too transparent!! Gord says they're fine, but without getting a Brazilian it would be illegal in most countries. I will be wearing these with shorts! No photos forthcoming.

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Location:Place Drouet d'Erlon,Rheims,France

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Laon to Corbeny: The Land of Kings

It was cool but sunny as I coasted down off the hilltop of Loan.Today was a beautiful day with rolling vistas and forests steeped in history. If you are a historical fiction junkie like me you know the area between Laons and Reims well. Whether you are reading about the Carolingian kings at their capital at Laon, or Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI failed attempt to escape France you are here.
At Corbeny we are very close to the famous Chemin des Dames where the daughters and ladies in waiting of Louis XV would ride to their forest lodge. Traces of this rich historical past are everywhere here.

At the hotel named for the Chemin des Dames we enjoyed our pilgrim meal with Philippe as our conversation drifted once again to the camino and the sense of connectedness found in a shared common purpose. Philippe read us the poem he was given at Canterbury as a part of his personalized pilgrim blessing.

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Location:Corbeny, France

Cessieres To Laon: Tous les Vaches

Ruth - After a long day yesterday, today we just had a short 10km up to the fortified city of Laon. It is wonderful to be back in a Medieval world with twenty first century comforts. Nous sommes bien enstaller dans le hotel des Chevalliers( I love that expression). To be well installed anywhere in France makes it sound like a more permanent arrangement.

Laon is fantastic, with a 12th century gothic Cathedral that is truly inspiring. It did in fact inspire others including Chartres and Notre Dame de Paris. This cathedral should really be called Notre Vache for its bigger than life oxen guarding the towers. Apparently when two oxen were struggling with their load of building stone during the construction of the cathedral another ox magically appeared to help out and then promptly disappeared once the load was delivered.

Speaking of cows, at our restaurant today I complemented the patron on the pepper sauce and he proceeded to give me the details of the recipe. I told him that it was difficult to find creme fresh in Canada and he asked, "What, you don't have cows there?" It was a lovely steak dinner; I had mine rare and Gord had his blue. There has been quite a lot of raw meat eating this trip. I am starting to see the attraction as long as they are not still mooing.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Via Fracigena Daily Notes on route

Work in Progress: I will continue to edit this page as we travel. Please forgive errors and omissions.

1. Canterbury to Calais
We stayed in the older section of the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge: 60£ with huge buffet breakfast. It was lovely to be on the Cathedral precincts.
We followed National Cycle Route 16. Longer than Raju and Chinn's route by two or three km. Pros: very well sign posted, beautiful 12th century church with tympanum and rose window at B? and great for bikes. It is a corrugated landscape with lots of ups and downs before the final long decent into Dover. We were racing to catch the ferry and left very early to leave extra time. It turns out if you book a later ferry if there is room they will let you on an earlier one. Usually an hour earlier but they put us on one two hours earlier.

2.Calais - Guines
We stayed at the very friendly Hotel
Particular Richelieu in Calais 55€ for a double. Very friendly.
We used Raju's guide for this section that follows two canals to Guines. On the second canal I biked on the road on the right bank and Gord stayed on the foot path on the left.

3. Guines- Licques
There is a Campsite just out of Guines.
If it is open, you must stop for local info at the Guines tourist office!!! They will print you color maps and detailed ones of the route through the forest. It's easy with their map because the trees at the edge of each forest bock are numbered just like on the map. The VF markers start when you leave the forest. The route is unsurfaced but my non mountain bike and trailer were fine on this section.
We stayed at the Pommes des Trois Pays in a little trailer they save for Pilgrims at Licques :26€ for two ( we were quoted 45€ ahead of time, but they must have dropped their prices for pilgrims). Dinner is available and they sell bread in the am. Very friendly.

4. Licques - Wisques
Chinn and Raju take different routes. Chinn's follows the way the French are in the process of marking but Raju's is 7 km shorter. We followed Raju's here. This section is a number of small lanes and roads and fine for a bicycle. There are a number of long climbs followed by a number of equally long and luxurious descents.
We stayed at the Abbay Saint Paul: Donativo (we were told it's free for real pilgrim but we paid anyway)they feed you dinner and breakfast. Very quiet and welcoming.

5. Wisques to Amettes
We stayed in Amettes with Mme and Mon. GEVAS 72 € for two with demi pension or double without dinner but with breakfast 40€. One of our favorite places. Fantastic people, food and charming farm. fermedes2tilleuls@wanadoo.fr

6. Amettes to Ablain Saint Lazaire
This was a diversion do that we could visit the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge. We stayed at the lovely Chambres D'Hotes:Auboutzeur
192 Rue Lancino, 62153 Ablain-Saint-Nazaire. auboutzeur@orange.fr

7. Ablain Saint Nazaire to Vimy Ridge and down to Arras
We were off the route here to take in Vimy Memorial. Note the Youth Hostel and campground are closed in Arras. We stayed at Le Porquois pas Chambres D’Hotes and were treated as royalty - their first pilgrims! 60€ double with amazing breakfast.
8. Arras to Bapaume Le Sars
the route down from Arras has now been marked with the new Via Francigena Grand Rondonee red and white! It should be all completed in the summer of 2013 in Nord Pas de Calais. No camping in Baupaume. All the hotels were full so we booked a Chambre D'hotes 6.5km past Baupaume on the road to Albert.

Location:Rue Serurier,Laon,France

Saint Quentin - Cessieres: Marathon Man

My marathon man is doing the full distance today. 46 kms without any missteps or deviations. I am in a small town about half way waiting for him in a bar hoping he will arrive because the natives are very lively. It is Bastille day and I expect, by the exuberance, that the drinking began early. I don’t think these places get a lot of single foreign women. When Gord arrived and asked to use the washroom one of the men at the bar mimed how to use a squat toilet. Too much information!!!

We have had a number of glorious appearances of the sun today which increasingly became the norm rather than the exception. I can handle almost anything as long as I get a bit of sunshine. I was even able to pull out and use our massive tube of sunscreen.
I wonder if Gord will be as tired as me. The tour de valise is very slow with a head wind. My average touring speed was only 11km/h today. pulling a 40lb trailer is quite different than just biking. Those guys on the tour de France don't even carry their own Camembert and wine.
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Peronne -Saint Quentin: Departments in France

Today started very well with a breakfast of quiche, coffee and pan au chocolate. I love French bakeries. The sky was overcast for the first hour of riding but after a stop at a cafe and reading for a while I was caught in a torrential storm. Gord said it just passed over him in about 5 minutes, but I must have been riding the same speed as the storm. My shoes filled with so much water I had to stop and pour it out. Boy I am really ready for the tiniest bit of summer.
But enough about the weather.
It turns out France is a series of islands. No really I am serious. The country is divided up into a number of departments and when you are in one trying to get any information on the next one just a few km away it is like asking for a safe route to Mordor. Even the maps are islands with all detail ending at the departmental border. The Via Francigena passes through corners of a number of departments very quickly and we always end up in towns with tourist offices just at the edge of the abyss. In Bapaume, for example, our friend Philip discovered that there is no bus between Baupaume and Peronne because Peronne, only 24 km away, is in a different department. Within three days we have left Nord Pas de Calais to briefly pass through the Somme and now we are in L’Aisne. This means we usually leave a department with an excellent map of the region that we would have preferred to have when we entered the department. So I am going to just offer up a minor suggestion for the tourist offices in France. Why not not share a little information with each other or even swap some maps? You could make a day of it, bring a picnic and enjoy the borderlands. We have enjoyed all of the departments we have visited and we really think they would too.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thoughts on the Somme

Drawing by Otto Dix at Peronne Museum
Yesterday and today we have been in the heart of the Somme. It is hard to comprehend the scale of lives lost in this small area of France. Comprehension requires rationality and for this War I can find none. If the First World War is to be remembered it must be remembered for it’s horror and utter senselessness. If Remembrance day was really about reminding us of the horrors of this war so that we would avoid all future conflicts then I would revere the day more than any other.
Too often though we get it all mixed and look for heros and victories in hopes of somehow justifying individual and collective loses.
Vimy ridge was an important bump of land that the Canadians pushed the Germans off of, but at what cost? And for what purpose? That this battle has now become so deeply woven into the fabric of our country’s nationalist mythology, hungry for a military victory; is disrespectful of the 3600 Canadians who died there.

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Location:Rue Charles le Téméraire,Péronne,France

Baupaume -Peronne: Beautiful Eyes

It is amazing what a beer in the sun can do to ones spirit. The via Francigena may have lucked out. I arrived in Peronne after another wet and cold ride to the sun! I am sitting in a bar looking at the chateau thinking that perhaps it is too soon to bail on this trip and head south. We started seriously talking about heading for the Arles route last night. This bit of sun however may keep us here on route for a bit longer.

I seem to be very popular with a guy at this bar. He would really like to be my new husband and thinks my eyes are beautiful. At 44 you have to appreciate these complements when they come and not look too carefully at the source.
I guess I should indicate that this is Ruth writing this, Gord also has beautiful eyes and many drunks have found him appealing.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012


This is a picture of Arras before it was demolished in the first world war. It was restored perfectly brick by brick with German war reparations.

July 11, Ruth:
Ok I really was not going to talk about the weather but today the heavens have poured out on us. I am writing this in a Bus shelter in Gomiencourt, where I had over optimistically hoped for a cafe or bar. Gord is in trouble too because his cell phone is switched off so I can't tell him that I don't feel like sitting in my wet cycle shorts waiting for him any longer.

The good news is that the rain does stop periodically it was even sunny for a full hour before 8 this morning. I can't imagine sleeping in our tent much less a trench with this wind and rain. Luckily I won't have to endure either one. A Welsh tourist explained to us that with the jet steam where it is this weather pattern could continue into mid August!!!! Are you kidding?!! We seriously started talking about heading south, and I don't mean heading south walking speeds but on a kick ass TGV train. Sorry this was supposed to be my positive paragraph. Hummm....
Kittens are cute, I love French cheese, and I am in the Somme in peace not war.

The pilgrim count is up to 4 now ( ourselves included). We met Philippe a French man living in Britain, last night at a bar in Arras. We also shared a sheltered lunch with Paolo, who we have once again caught up to.

These are still very early days on the Via Francigena. Our delightful hosts at le Pourquoi Pas Chambre D’hotes in Arras told us we were the first pilgrims that they had met.
The wife was quite excited by news of the route and took a pictures of our pilgrim passports so she could research it later.

I should close with a quick apology for publicly shaming Gord about his phone. It was my misdial not his mistake. Oops!

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Monks, Farmers and Barflies: Wisques to Amettes

We stayed at Abbaye Saint Paul for a night on either side of our Brussels trip. Père Hotellier was very warm and welcoming. He not only let me leave my bike and trailer, but also told us just to leave our stuff in our room and take the key with us to Brussels. He also seemed quite pleased with the chocolates we brought him.

From Wisques we went to Amettes staying in the fabulous Chambres d’Hotes de Madame et Monsier Gevas. The welcome was fantastic and was followed by a wonderful evening dinner. I would encourage everyone on the VF to try to stay with this wonderful couple. Mme. Gevas takes pictures of all the pilgrims that pass, and keeps them in a three ring binder for future reference. Gord and I were numbers 50 and 51 ( for this year? ). It was here also that we met number 52, Paolo from Torino, Italy.
He is the only other pilgrim we have encountered so far. Talking to him made us even more excited about returning to do the Italian portion of the VF.
I live the life of a barfly now. When the rain starts - and we are not going to discuss the weather - I head to the nearest watering hole to hang out until Gord catches up. It always starts the same- sometimes with the same locals appearing that were at the last watering hole. The people in the bar are quietly friendly until we get talking and the warmth and curiosity starts flowing. The are always blown away to hear that Gord is coming behind by foot. It's an older crowd, but I am always impressed to see just how many people are having a beer at 10 in the morning. The first beer of the day?

Whether it's from monks, farmers or barflies, the welcome is much warmer than the weather - but we are not talking about that!
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Location:Amettes, France

Friday, July 6, 2012

Side Trip to Brussels

We stayed at the Abbaye Saint Paul in Wisque last

night where we left my bike and trailer to make a little side trip to Brussels to spend two nights with our friend Béatrice.
The journey today involved a 9km walk to Saint-Omer and a planned 4 hour stop in Lille, before heading to Brussels. Lille was lovely, but I was tired and a bit sore from the day before. I think the tour de valise the day before may have been a bit too much pushing the bike up hills. I will stick to the roads for a bit.
Beatrice has been the most amazing host and friend. We have drunk 30 year old Cote du Rhone, eaten the best chocolates and been delivered to the door of an osteopath for a post tour tune up.
And just look at the lunch she prepared for us.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Licques to Wisques: the Tour de Valise

You have no doubt heard of the tour de France, but have you heard of its hearty grandmother the tour de valise? The true test of ovaries of the France racing tours demands that you not only cycle impressive distances daily of around thirty kilometers, but that you also pull a samsonite suitcase ( la valise ) over unsurfaced roads. This is not a race for the weak of heart. While I excel at the better surfaced down hill segments, I find that I am a little weak on some of the ascents. My climbing speed of 4.9 km/h force me to drop back with the peloton ( i.e. Gordon) at times. Cyclists on the tour de Valise must eat their weight in wine, cheese and pain au chocolate in order to be sufficiently fueled for the arduous journey.

If Ryder Hesjedal had qualified for this tour ( i.e. had ovaries and a valise) I would have welcomed the challenge especially as we both represent Belmont High School. I do wish him all the best, however on his own little Tour.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Calais-Guines-Licques: Forest by numbers

It was a beautiful and varied day. We followed a Canal to Guines. There we confirmed our remaining route with an extremely helpful young man at the tourist office. I was not sure if I should take the road or the Via Francigena, but he not only reassured me that the VF would be better, he printed us detailed maps of the forest we were to travel through. The maps look like maps of a suburb with all the tree lots numbered and named lanes between. There was a fair bit of climbing ( sore arms for a cyclist means I must have been pushing quite a bit). I laughed when we got to the forest and saw that on either side of all paths and lanes the trees were numbered too. This wilderness experience I could handle. It was great when we actually did miss a turn, we were able to take another one of the lanes and we knew exactly where we would end up.
On leaving the forest we started to see VF signs along the well marked GR 128. We are optimistic that there will be more up ahead too because they are in the process of marking the route in Pas de Calais.
We have been traveling together so far, even with guide books and maps the routes are challenging to figure out at times. My bike trailer is much heavier with the camping gear, so my comfortable cruising speed is around 13-15km and hour and my climbing speed much slower. I wait for Gord when I get ahead and walk with him quite a bit.

In Licques a rain shower convinced us to rent a trailer rather than camping. We slept through the night here, so jet lag must be behind us.
km: 34km- with a few "meanders".

Monday, July 2, 2012

Day one: Canterbury to Dover and on to Calais

Gordon - We walked/rode together from Canterbury to Dover yesterday. It was about 36 km, including a few extra kilometers caused by losing our route. The way is not well signposted, and everyone who has written about the Via Francigena (VF) has mentioned the route finding difficulties.
The walk was beautiful, passing through an agricultural landscape dotted with small villages. We were particularly taken with the village architecture, which I would characterize as hobbit-homes in brick. As a fortuitous result of being lost, we also passed a charming 12th century parish church with a delightful tympanum and other Romanesque details.
We took a P&O ferry to Calais. The distance and sailing time is about the same as the trip from Swartz Bay to Tsawassen, but, critics of BC Ferries take note, the fare for a walk-on passenger is about $50. On the plus side, a plethora of bars and lounges on the boat give you an opportunity to drink steadily during the crossing, which is what many of the passengers were doing.
It's great to be back in France. We celebrated our return with a $5 bottle of robust red wine from Cahors.

Ruth- Obviously Gord wrote the bit above. Have you heard me use the word plethora and fortuitous - hey I can't even spell them without auto correct.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Canterbury becoming a pilgrim again

The travel day : thoughts about why I want to be a pilgrim again.
June 30-July 1st 2012
Writing with jet-lag to an audience of more than just Gord is never a good idea. So no great expectation of wit please.

The trip was one of our quickest yet, arriving at Canterbury Cathedral 14 hours after leaving Vancouver. We splurged and hired a drive right from the airport after not finding any cheaper train connections. This was a good idea because even a folding bike and our single box of gear was really awkward. Gord wrenched his handling the luggage in Vancouver, but he is determined not to let it delay things. We will stick close on our first day just in case plans need to change.
People interactions in an airport today underlined once again that I want to be a pilgrim.
In Vancouver there were four seats with leg rests and only two of them were occupied by a couple. When I asked the gentleman sitting there if he would mind if we joined them he paused, looked up at me slowly, glaring, and reluctantly moved his pack off the seat. Facial expressions did all the effective communication, making a hello out of the question. What a jerk I thought as I peeled my stinky socks off to air my feet and put on new ones (I was bringing out all my charms too.) Now I am not in the habit of public shaming anyone and that is not my intention here. This guy is all of us when we are tired, stressed and feeling pressured to exist with others when we would really prefer not to.
As I looked at this couple I noticed that they were wearing light hikers and had small but good backpacks. I took a risk and asked them if they were heading to the camino and they were!! She was terrified and had lots of questions and gratefully accepted our reassurances. Layers of grumpy resentment evaporated off of all of us in a moment and we were talking and chatting about the various pilgrimages we had all done and still wanted to do.

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