Sunday, 20 September 2015

A taxi to the start of the walk

Distance from Viverone 14.7km Distance from Dijon 481km    

Thursday 6/8/15

We had asked for breakfast early to try and complete much of the walk before the midday heat of the sun. Breakfast was laid out for us both and once again we were treated to to a sumptuous feast of delights. A welcome change from the meagre croissant, jam and coffee we were used to in France.

Our host had very kindly offered to drive us to the village we had finished at the previous day and we both accepted without a second thought. Soon we were at the start and we jumped out of the car and said our goodbyes and went in search of water for the day. Outside the Tabac with a handful of small bottles between us we decanted them into our containers and set off. After only a few metres I happened to notice I had something missing, my hat, my sunglasses, my guide book and my notes. Rachel was not happy at my forgetfulness and so we returned to the Tabac to call our previous nights host. Eventually after trying quite a few times I finally got to speak to her for her say she was waiting in the square she had dropped us off. Wasting no time I ran to retrieve my things, apologising also to her for my stupidity and I would sometimes forget my head if it was not screwed on tight.

As I left her I noticed four people with rucksacks and eating pastries and drinking coffee. I asked if they were walking the Francigena and they all nodded excitedly and laughed when I said I was too and would see them in Santhia later in the day. I returned to Rachel with the news.

As we headed out of the village the first thing we came across was a bed and breakfast with a swimming pool.......Well if it was meant to be it was meant to be. We both just thought about being in that pool the previous night!

The route continued to be the one that Pilgrims took in the 12th and 13th century and may of the villages have remnants from that time, usually in the form of the towers in them. Two kilometres outside Piverone is the 9th century church of Gesiun and despite there being no roof and open to the elements one small painted section still exists.

Passing through vineyards soon there were views of lake Viverone to our right a vast expanse of water that we walked by for the first half of the morning. We both took the opportunity for a comfort break in the first village we came to, and for me to top up my caffeine levels with a strong hit of coffee. As one village rolled into another we soon passed the four Italians I had met earlier in the morning. Rachel and I both commented and queried how they had got in front of us since they had not passed us, had they got a bus or a taxi? We continued on.......

Last year when we travelled together, me walking and Rachel either pushing or riding her bike, neither of us had any problems with the distance or the heat. For Rachel this time it was to be different. From the first day she had started walking with me this time she had a developed a heat rash on her legs and today it was getting worse and more intense. By lunch time we were both ready for a cool drink and Rachel needed to resolve the issue with her legs so we took a pit stop in a cafe. Rachel immediately disappeared to the bathroom and came back with cool wet paper towels over the backs of both legs.....quite a sight but a lot happier!

With a more permanent solution now required to keep the sun off the backs of her legs Rachel went in search of a Farmacie. Once located a large roll of tape was purchased and soon the cool damp paper towels were a permanent fixture and fashion accessory to her legs.

The kilometres were slowly eaten away and by mid afternoon and the hottest part of the day behind us we were strolling into Santhia and our home for the night. We had secured Pilgrim accommodation here the day before and we're glad we had as it turned out that of the six beds available there were seven staying with one person sleeping on a camp bed on the floor of the office. The Ostellier was centrally located on the edge of the town square and while I quaffed my beer Rachel went to lay claim to our bunk beds for the night. 

Once the beds had been claimed we both sat in the square enjoying the peace and quite, the late afternoon sun drinking our drinks. After we'd been sat there for a while the four Italians came round the corner and once more we all exchanged pleasantries as they too sat down for drinks. It transpired that these four Pilgrims were not booked into our accommodation so that meant there were now to be eleven in town for the night.  I had never seen so many in one place since I had set off from Canterbury!

We bid our farewells to our new friends and went to get showered and cleaned up. Now I am a big believer in fate and the notion that sometimes we are in particular time and place for a reason, today was one of those reasons. We had been in the Ostellier for about an hour and two more Pilgrims arrived, one staying outside on the phone. I never took any notice and just happened to glance out of the window as one passed by.  Mmmm I thought, I am sure I recognise that person but ignored it not being able to place a name or location to the person. I carried on and went to the bunk room to do some faffing. The second person walked into the the room and I looked up, Tony she uttered and gave me a hug! It turned out that these two people were some Italians we had walked with last year on the Francigena. Isaac came into the room having finished his phone call and was just cool at the whole notion of bumping into each other again.

The accommodation was not a huge space, just one room with three pair of bunk beds and some floor space. An office as an overflow for the odd camp bed and one room with a toilet and shower and that was it.  The princely price for the this sumptuous luxury, ten Euros. Now I am not speaking out of turn or turning my nose at the facilities and was more than happy at what was being offered and the price. I just wish such accommodation was more frequent along the route of the Francigena.

Rachel's first day walking....proper!

Distance from Pont-Saint-Martin 21.8km Distance from Dijon.

Wednesday 5/8/15

After a good breakfast and with full tummies we were soon on our way. Our route out of Pont Saint Martin took us over the impressive Roman Bridge to then skirt the back of the house along the vineyard terraces and out of the town. This was Rachel's full experience walking through the Italian countryside and soon she was taking every opportunity to stop and take photographs to preserve the memories.

It was not to be too much of a long day but at over 20 kilometresl it would test Rachel's stamina. She had been practising on similar terrain at home, with her rucksack full of the tinned produce from our kitchen cupboard she had jauntily bounced around the hillside in the Dales.

Whilst the weight was of a similar nature the terrain was a different kettle of fish. The path meandered along grapevine terraces, through sleepy villages, all the time climbing and descending the hillside at all too frequent intervals. Very much like step training at the gym, but outside and in the sun!

As we took a brief respite from the hills and walked alongside a busy stretch of roadway two additional Pilgrims briefly caught up with us. We exchanged pleasant  waves to acknowledge each other but we never got the opportunity for a chat. By lunchtime we were both ready to put our feet up and have something to eat. On the outskirts of Montestrutto we spied a picnic bench in a playground and made a beeline to it. With packs off our backs I gazed around and by chance happen to see a cafe in the distance, we were sat outside it within seconds. With two ice cold cans of Fanta unopened we took advantage of rolling the can around our necks, face, arms, legs to cool down. What a sight we must have looked. We shared an apple strudel cake and then took advantage of a flat surface to make our sandwiches which we would later eat on the hoof. Reluctantly it was time to leave, we were about half way through the day and not too much more climbing left before the end of the day.

Now I have mentioned Rachel's keenness to get some training in before walking with me in Italy, what she could not train for was the heat. It certainly took its toll on her until she developed an ingenious way to cool down. In every village there is, somewhere a tap or a Lavoire (wash house) dispensing cool drinkable water. Upon coming across one such fountain of coolness Rachel promptly took her hat off and put her head straight under the tap. Once cooled down she then proceeded to fill her hat with water and then put it on her head. This technique she practised regularly and with absolute gay abandonment at every opportunity that arose.

All too soon we were skirting the commercial district of Ivrea before descending into the town. Tonight we were staying at the Canoe club a Pilgrim hostel that offered all the facilities we needed, bed, shower and kitchen. What we did not bargain for was the mosquitoes! 

The accommodation proved just what we wanted and all for the princely sum of twelve Euros per person. We had experienced the lack of food outlets in France so we were carrying some dried supplies with us for tea and breakfast so with the exception of a Chouffe beer for me, some water and eggs for sandwiches the next day, it proved to me an inexpensive overnight stay.

More rest and recuperation......but in luxury!

Distance from Pont Saint-Martin 21.8km Distance from Dijon 448km

Monday 3/8 - Tuesday 4/8/15

So I found myself in forced rest due to ill health and needing the bathroom every two seconds. I spent the first day at the Al Castel bed and breakfast asleep. By the following morning I was still feeling washed out, breakfast was served at 8.30am as we had asked for and was a small banquet of delights. Fresh fruit, pastries, yogurts, cereals, juice etc etc etc. Unfortunately I was only able to succumb to a coffee and a pastry. With breakfast over and with very little strength I stayed around my room, making use of the small lounge area and the covered terrace to get fresh air. Once again taking the opportunity to sleep when the need arose.

I was fortunate on two fronts as Rachel was a vey able and willing nurse to tend to my every whim and the bed and breakfast was free for us to take advantage of an extra days rest. The thoughts of donning a large pack and walking at that very moment a daunting thought.

By late afternoon and with bathroom visits becoming less urgent and less frequent I was now starting to add increasing morsels of food to my depleted body. 

The afternoon continued to provide a surprise in the form of two additional guests who's room was suddenly prepared and they as soon, arrived. Now I am not one to caste assumptions but after a couple of hours he appeared and returned to the room carrying plates of food from somewhere! Maybe they needed to replenish their energy levels.... A few hours later they left never to return.........

By 7.30pm it was our turn to head out for something to eat and we headed off to somewhere that had been recommended to us. I don't think that there were any tourists in town because the hotel restaurant turned out to be the locals haunt. The food was very nice but Rachel's was very plain. I don't think herbs or spices are used on the continent, if they are we never ever find them in our meals. My meal choice was the blueberry and mushroom risotto. Now I would never have considered blueberries in a savoury dish but to be honest once I had recovered from the colour of the meal it was surprisingly different and not altogether unpleasant. With full tummies we strolled back to our room to watch a movie.

By the next morning I was definitely feeling much better and raring to go for a walk. Once more a breakfast banquet was awaiting us and we both indulged to excess. After setting the bill and saying our goodbyes we were on our way to Ivrea.

Rest, recuperation and then a wee stroll !

Distance from Issogne 14.7km. Distance from Dijon 426.2km

Saturday 1/8 - Monday 3/8/15

Well the first night was exciting as Rachel (my wife) was en route and trying to locate me somewhere along the Aosta valley. Once located she just had to work out how to physically get to me, bus, train, boat, plane, taxi, bike, foot or mule!

As soon as I arrived in the village I let here know I was safe, a common practise required when I travel alone. Back came the response that she was waiting for the next train to a nearby station and then once more had to work out the next mode of transport......we do lead very exciting lives!

I settled into my hotel room, making sure it did not resemble a bomb sight for when she arrived. I decided to have a well deserved catnap and just as I was about to fall asleep,  the phone rang. Rachel had arrived at her next stage of the journey and upon arrival had wandered into a bar to ask about the local bus service. I believe a conversation ensued and a very kind young man offered to give her a lift once he had finished his beer. Soon she was on her way and within ten minutes I saw her step out a car. A funny conversation then ensued with me telling Rachel I could see her but she could not see me and I guided her round cars, telling her the make and colour before sending down the road to the hotel and me sitting laughing on the terrace. 

I left Rachel to nest in the room and later joined her to discuss the evening meal options. Ha ha image my surprise and joy at seeing that every available surface was now covered with something of Rachel's.....well I guess she was making her self at home.

We had been recommended to try the local restaurant and had booked a table earlier in the evening. We turned up like two scruffy urchins and were shown to out table. It turned out the restaurant was owned by the family and they all lived on the premises. Our waiter spoke good English having been to sent to Scarborough on the North East coast of England ......a sea-side town when still at school. We both wondered how fate had sent home there rather than one of the main cities.

The meal was excellent and I won't make your mouth water by going into the details, suffice to say we skipped out like two very happy bunnies.

The next morning we had decided to check out the shop for provisions and to visit the local Castle by the side of our hotel. It was cheap enough to visit and although the guide was only in Italian we were provided with an English map and each room had some extra information we could both read. Following earlier Roman occupation a fortification building was part of the Bishop's of Aosta's possession around the 12th century before being handed to the Challant family. Now it his in the hands of the local municipality but there is every possibility that it used to provide religious Pilgrims sanctuary from the weary road to Rome.

The day continued uneventfully with us just catching up on chores that needed completing. For the evening we were to dine in the I wished I had had a premonition of what was in store for me...

Meal completed we drifted off to our rooms and with bags packed for an early start, off we went to sleep......O my goodness, in the middle of the night I raced the bathroom and literally did not know which way to turn first. After turning myself inside out several times, I returned to my bed like a rung out dishcloth. Rachel slumbered on totally unaware.....bless!

An hour later I was forced to repeat the whole experience again, this time Rachel woke up and some wifely tender loving care was administered which did make me feel a bit better. I drifted off to a disturbed sleep and woke up at 7.30am to start the day. I stayed where I was and dispatched Rachel for breakfast knowing that I had got food poisoning! 

I got ready with bags packed and then promptly undressed and went back to bed for another two hours. We left the hotel after paying the bill and slowly ambled through the village once supplies for the day had been purchased. After three miles of the planned seven miles under our belts I took advantage of a bus shelter to catch my breathe and sit down. I never did manage to walk again that day. My energy was totally depleted and with the thoughts of probably collapsing, once again common sense prevailed and we caught the bus to Pont Saint-Martin. 

We had pre-booked a nice bed and breakfast that we had been told was worth every penny but could not get in until after three in the afternoon. Having arrived too early we found a bench, Rachel sat down and I curled up like a ball resting my head on her lap and fell asleep for and hour and a half.

Shortly after three we trundled to the bed and breakfast and by just after four the owner arrived, we settled in and I went straight to bed for another two hours.

Life is not always a bowl of cherries!!!

The crazy Spanish cow and a chatty policeman!

Distance from Chattillon 20.3km Distance from Dijon 411.5 

Saturday 1/8/15

Well after an evening without a meal I was a bit hungry when I woke up. Breakfast was a meagre affair and the usual bread and jam but this time with two additional luxuries - orange juice and soft diary lee like triangular cheese. Once consumed, bill paid and stamp for my Credenza I was off. 

I was informed that rather than going back into town the Francigena passes the door, naturally uphill. Before I left the road and entered the hillside the path became a bit unclear so I hesitated to study my GPS and guide book map. No sooner had I done this then a voice was heard.....bonjourno, bonjourno.....I looked up to see a man rapidly getting out of his car and heading my way......Francigena he announced and some very obvious Italian that I did not have a clue about. I apologised and told him I did not speak Italian.........agh you are English......I am like a Spanish cow! He uttered in absolute and excitable enthusiasm... He directed me in the right direction and bid me chow as he returned to his car.

Today's route had been described as less strenuous that the St Bernard's pass day and there was the possibility of breaking the journey half way. I had already declined that option in my mind as my wife was joining me at the end of the stage, hopefully if she could find me.

I continued on my way and the route continued the by now familiar pattern of ups and downs, with what seemed more very steep ups than downs through the rolling hillside and valley terraces. All the time the valley of Aosta laying below me like a lazy gentle giant with the snow capped mountains at its head. In Saint Vincent the guide booked tested my patience and although there are waypoints every step of the way, there were several times when I had to retrace my steps to ensure my route. The final straw that nearly had me heading to the local for a beer was when the I was guided to go a particular route and turn right at a T-junction. Well I know what a T-junction is and I do know my left from right, but could I find the correct route with a yellow marker. I tried every conceivable option. Evtually I resorted to using my GPS map versus the guide book map. I concluded that I was in fact totally in the wrong place and to far below my intended course. I tracked the route back to the main road where hopefully my true path was just above me. As I looked at my GPS, identified that I should take the next write, there on that side of the road was a very bright VF sing and an arrow pointing up the hill. Formidabla.........all the time I had been directed right when it should have been left and the T-junction did not exist.....Over an hour trying to get on the right path! Slightly annoyed I continued and by the time I had reached my half way point I was already regretting not taking the option of breaking the journey, but love was calling me on.

After resting for half an hour with my boot less feet up on my bag resting, I was back on my way. The day by now was hot and sticky and despite only carrying a litre of water, I had taken every opportunity of rehydrating at every fountain I had come across. The route continued to be more of the same with the hills getting steeper and steeper with the valley below me becoming smaller and smaller. I had been warned about the possibility of dogs running loose and was always wary when passing them. During the afternoon I came across a sweet looking one that looked as though it was chained up. It never made a noise as I cautiously approached it, in fact it moved towards me and slightly behind a stone pillar almost out of view. I drew alongside, still no movement or noise, as I just got past it it leapt at me like a Tazmanian devil. Well it's a good job I have good bowl control.....I looked at it laughing my head off. I wonder how many times he completed his party piece at unsuspecting walkers? 

I always walk with on coming traffic facing me and as my path took me through one sleepy village I moved to one side as a police car approached........then stopped. It turned out to be the local forestry police. The passenger window opened and I really did not know what to expect! The driver leaned over his female colleague and the first words he uttered was.........Francigena, Via Francigena and then loads of Italian. Again I mentioned that I could not speak Italian.......agh you are English? We both then have a very lengthy chat about the walk, the route, where I had set off from and all manner of things. His female officer just smiled as if to say...........he's always doing this!

Just before Issogne my path was well above the valley floor and soon I was making a very steep and careful way down on the slippery stone cobbled track to river below. I followed this and was soon finishing the day, now to find a bed for the night. I had tried to book somewhere that had been recommended to me but tonight it was full. I had also asked if that accommodation could recommend somewhere and text me but I had received no message. 

With no knowledge of any obvious place I went in sight of a beer and some divine intervention. I sat down with said beer in hand and looked for an Internet connection, no chance. My gut feeling told me to call the accommodation that was full for tonight and see if anything had been arranged. I stepped outside into the rain and took shelter to don my waterproofs, whilst completing this the landlord stepped outside and presented me with a baseball cap to keep my head nice!

Fortunate was to be on my side today as unbeknown to me I had been booked into an Auberge in the village that I was not aware of, and even shown where it was...I am starting to find the Italians much more accommodation to Pilgrims than France.

Walking alone with no Bert !

Distance from Aosta 28.4km. Distance from Dijon 391.2    

Friday 31/7/15

I am getting used to early mornings and today was no exception. Today was going to be a new chapter in my Pilgrim walk as Bert was heading home to his family, having completed his planned two week walk. We headed down for breakfast at 7am and were surprised to see a veritable feast of breakfast goodies. We were used to the meagre bread, jam and coffee options so to be greeted with fresh fruit, yogurts and chocolate desserts, pastries, breads, cheeses, eggs etc etc etc We certainly took advantage of what was on offer.

With full tummies we set off on our final path together. I took advantage of a local bakery / cafe to get bread to go with my eggs today. As I entered the shop my ears were blasted with a cacophony of noise coming from every direction. With everyone talking at and together at the same time, this was my very first taste of Italy. With fresh olive ciabatta bread bought, I very gladly left everyone to their own noise.

At the edge of the city it was time for me to say goodbye to my by now very good friend and walking buddy...Bert. We exchanged goodbyes and man hugs, promising to be in touch and swap the photographs we had each taken.

I set off on my own!

The guide book had stated that it was to be a strenuous walk along the valley hillside with the option of breaking the day at a village halfway. I had already planned to decline this option as my wife Rachel was flying to Italy today to hopefully meet me somewhere the next day. No sooner had I left the city than the hills started and this was to be the case for the whole of the morning. Soon I was out of water but in Italy there is so much water coming off the hills there are water fountains in every village. Ensuring the water was advertised as non potable I took my first hesitant taste at the first opportunity of water. It was very cold and slightly chalky but perfectly ok to drink.

By late morning I had reached my half way point and amazing views back down the valley to Aosta and the mountains far behind. I sat on a bench, took my boots off, put my feet up on my bag and made and scoffed with delight my fresh egg sandwiches. Once completed I was on my way again. The guide book was not wrong about the strenuous journey, I was already thinking that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew, but I pressed on. Again the weather was hot but a slight breeze kept the heat out of the day. On and on I walked, up and down and up and down the path went along fields, tracks and vineyard terraces to Chatillon.

I arrived late in the afternoon and very very tired. After paying a visit to the church, my end point and naturally at the top of lots of steps, I went in search of a hotel and a beer. Fortunately there was both options in the square so I sat down at a table on the terrace and waited for somebody to come out and ask what I would like. This never happened, and after seeing the landlord come out and provide other guests with coffee and ignore me, I went in search of him. I approached the bar and in my English Italian I asked for a beer please, he looked at me after removing his eyes from the game he was playing on the phone as though I was stupid.......and no comment from those of you who know me! I tried again, same response so this time I pointed at the beer tap. O an bierro, now I ask what is the the difference between a beer and a bierro apart from the obvious O? I decided that I was not going to provide this hotel with my presence and went in search of somewhere else. My guidebook mentioned another one and off I went in search off it. Sometimes you just wish you had stuck with what you had been offered. Formidabla more hills and up and up it went to the hotel I was in search of. I walked through the door hot and bothered and very tired. I must have looked a state as the landlady asked if I would like and drink of orange which I drank eagerly. The landlady spoke no English and I spoke no Italian so with phrase book in hand I took a crash course in trying to make myself understood. I must have been almost fluent, I wish, as I secured a bed for the night at Pilgrim rate including breakfast. I think the landlady had the last laugh as she promptly escorted me to my room on the ground floor..........the disable appropriate!

My feet were making some serious complaints today and the thoughts of going down the hill and back up and speaking Italian was just too much. So I decided to stay in my room and save my appetite until breakfast. I thought maybe the Internet would take my mind off things as I had accommodation to secure the following night when Rachel would arrive. Stupid thought, backwards and forewords I went to reception to try and get on the Internet, eventually I plucked up courage and in Italian I said the Internet was buggered! Well I certainly felt like it. The landlady disappeared and her husband came back and reset the Internet modem. He came back and said ....five minutes, give it five minutes......English, English he could flipping speak English,

I returned to my room and made a request for some accommodation that had been recommended to me in Issogne my next day's destination. Soon my IPad rang and it was my wife On Skype calling. We had a god natter and I asked before we completed the call if she could send me some pastries that were in her room. She did but I could not eat them as they were pictures. With thoughts of fresh pizza, steaming bowls of pasta, and lush green salads I drifted off to sleep...........hungry!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Switzerland to Italy in less than ten minutes !

Col St Bernard to Etroubles
13.2km, Distance from Citeaux Abbey, Dijon 346.9 km

Well a new day and a different country beckons. Once again it was a long walk as we were all keen to complete two short days in one. With breakfast pre-arranged for 7.15 it was another early start. We had been sharing a large mixed dormitory and not everyone was getting up at the same time in our room, so with the lights off we all fumbled around to pack our sleeping bags and clothes into our bags, making as little noise as possible. Job finished in the corridor we traipsed down for breakfast only to find out that a local walking group was already up and breakfasted. This group were staying a few nights, walking in the mountains, averaging around 1000 metre climbs each day, with bags carried by a mule! Wonder if I can arrange something like that with my local walking Group - Your Outdoor Group?

Once again Bert and I separately set from our other Pilgrims. We took advantage of the early morning sunshine to take selfies while we were still in Switzerland and then within a two hundred metre walk we were crossing the border uneventfully into Italy!

It was a steady walk down off the mountain, following a well trodden route through fields, across electric fences and along hillside terraces. All the time we were being dogged by our fellow Pilgrims close behind. Bert had mentioned the previous night that  jokingly we really did not mind if they wanted to walk with us! Eventually this became the case and as we naturally came together we all chatted away in a mixture of Dutch between themselves and English wanting to keep me in the conversations.

With the hot weather it is common for the fields to be sprayed with water on occasions to stop it drying out. As we left the village of Cerisey we encountered one such event. The field we had to pass through was littered with water sprayers and the ground was a veritable quagmire. By now the other Pilgrims were in kind of them to show us how to get through. As they watched the machines at work to identify the pattern of their water dispersement, they slowly made their way through. Thinking they had outwitted the machines Margy was blasĂ© and was treated to a quick drenching as one of the machines quickly turned itself on her back to the sounds of squeals of shock. Next it was our turn and like dancers on a ballroom floor we tango'd through the  machines uneventful,  aside from a river of water in my shoes.  

We continued to Etroubles, the half way point of the day and yes it was coffee time. Our companions asked if they could join us and of course we said yes so we found a sunny terrace and quenched our thirsts. 

With the same distance ahead in store we set off, by now having taken our time with the drinks it was well after midday. The route was a steady decline to Aosta passing through fields, wooded paths and alongside the numerous aqueducts that littered the valley edge. By now Bert and I were once more on our own, did we smell? Well quite possibly yes!

The views were to die for, the horizon littered with numerous mountains, some with snow like icing sugar on a cake, oozing down the sides. The sun was hot but the air was dry and not humid like we had experienced in Switzerland. 

Just before mid afternoon Bert announced it was probably time for something to eat and I asked where he had in mind. He replied that just around the corner was a bench and stream just waiting for us, well it wasn't round the next corner but round the next did he know? We set up camp for our lunch spot and I took the opportunity to take my boots off and put my feet up. No sooner than we had had the first bite of our obligatory jam sandwich then our Pilgrim friends appeared. We all laughed and they joined us and we all grazed on our jam butties. We were soon in deep conversation about all manner of things, laughing and joking away once more.

After a good break it was on with the boots and this time we all walked together chatting away. Soon we were in the centre of Aosta and this time all heading to the Tourist Information to find a bed for the night. As we made our way there an extremely tall and I mean tall, probably over seven foot American asked if we were Pilgrims, we replied yes and set off together to the Tourist Information. Bert and I were offered a hotel about a kilometre away and I asked if there was any closer in the town. Yes came the reply, it's a few Euros extra and it's only a double bed. We looked at each other and replied we'll take the first one please! Jean (pronounced Jon) turned round to me and laughing loudly told me it was probably Bert and my destiny and we should have taken the one with the double bed.

Once we had secured accommodation we retired for beer. By now we were all in high spirits have been up an Alpine mountain.....survived ......and come down. By the time the second large beer arrived we were all joking and crying with laughter and probably could have stayed there all night. Everything must come to an end and it was Berts final days walk and with beers drunk we all hugged and gave the traditional triple cheek kisses, including the men!

Bert and I wandered off to find our hotel which turned out to be across a very busy dual carriageway. With perfect timing we crossed the road alive. The hotel was basic, there was no extra charge for the traffic fumes or noise, it was cheap and once again the beds were very very separate. 

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Orsiers to St Bernard's Pass

Orsiers to St. Bernard's Pass 25.3 km.  Distance from Citeaux Abbey, Dijon 333.7km

With a very long and hard day in front of us and an anticipated walk of nine hours and twenty six kilometres, we woke before six for breakfast. We had previously arranged an early breakfast and our host was only too pleased to accommodate our request. Breakfast was laid out in the owners kitchen and naturally we consumed almost everything that had been laid out for us and also made sandwiches to take us through the day.

By 6.30am we were out of the door and straight away were climbing a very steep track, fortunately after what seemed an age the path levelled out to a more manageable one as we snaked our way up the mountain. By mid morning we had reached an opportunity for a coffee stop but as this meant a detour off our path and extra time and distance, with heavy hearts we declined the opportunity. By mid morning we had completed a third of our climb and after another steep section we decided enough was enough and pit stop was needed. We sat on our own respective boulder and fed our faces with jam butties.......

After a good twenty minutes we set off again. The weather forecast was for rain and cloud and by now this had come true but fortunately it was only very fine drizzle and not enough to put waterproofs on, something that neither of us wanted to do.

We continued to climb with the views around us becoming increasingly different and varied almost at every turn of the path. Passing a small weekend house/hut in the middle of nowhere the owner popped his head out of the door and asked if we were Francigena, again we said yes. A conversation ensued but in English and we were surprised to learn that the walk to Rome is becoming more popular with around ten Pilgrims a week now passing by. We were wished Bon Journey and carried on, once more the weather treated us to a quick wash but again we resisted putting waterproofs on because of the humid conditions. 

Our journey up the mountain was progressing well and we were ahead of schedule so after reaching the top of a reservoir we made our way to the stream feeding it and had our lunch. This time dining on boiled egg sandwiches I had cooked the day before and cheese also left over......,a feast fit for a king! With mountains almost all around us with the occasional dusting of snow in corners that are missed by the sun, it was hard to start walking again.....but needs must.

We were less than six kilometres away but with a significant amount of climbing over a short distance in store, so we pressed on. Once more we were soon ascending a very steep track. Just before the summit the weather closed in and the clouds descended onto our heads. In misty, gloomy by now rainy weather, waterproofs were a necessity and once adorned we made the decision that the last two kilometres we would complete on the road. After less than an hour we reached the summit and a very welcome sign that were had reached the top of the St Bernard's pass. Needless to say after a quick photograph it was straight to the cafe to celebrate with a beer.

Once our drinks had been quaffed we completed the final two minutes walk to the monastery of St Bernard, Bert did ask if there was a taxi available! We were greeted with open arms by Brother Frederick and once we had dispensed with our wet outer clothes and footwear and adorned ourselves with obligatory free crock shoes we went for hot drinks. 

The evening continued to be an eventful and moving experience. After visiting the museum and the local St Bernard dogs, all looking happy and content and absolutely cuddly, I went to set up my bed for the night. Once more we bumped into our fellow Pilgrims, were they following us or we were following them?

At 6.15pm we all descended into the crypt for Vespers and another different way of delivering the service followed. All the monks were very animated in there expression and delivery of the service and once more it was very personable. There were many references to Pilgrims and their journey. And as there were many Explorer Scouts present, one of them read one of the readings.

It is one place that I will definitely return to and if you are in the area I would truly recommend experiencing it.

Once Vespers was over we all headed to the dining area for the evening meal, a simple three course affair but perfect energy food. There were a lot of visitors to the abbey and the dining room was full. Tonight we were to have the pleasure of our fellow Pilgrims company and tales of our walk experiences before retiring for the night early. 

Martigny to Ossiers

Tuesday 28 July 2015 - 22 kilometres

Today was a short walk in distance but the profile was very hilly, so it was expected that it would take most of the day. As we left our flat we bumped into our fellow Pilgrims but again went on our separate ways. We stocked up on some fresh fancy breads for lunch and a cheese tart each as second breakfasts which were consumed immediately. From the start we went the wrong way out of Martigny and added and extra three kilometres onto the days walk. We also realised that Martigny is famous for its almost complete Roman Amphitheatre, sadly we missed it. We eventually found the actually path we should be following and were given the option of three separate routes. Option one, a more direct route but a stiff 800 metre climb. Option two, a narrow track on a precipitous hillside considered dangerous by some walkers. Option three, a short section on a major road or as Bert hankered for .....a bus! Needless to say we opted for number three and the walk alongside the main road, which despite the traffic we both survived.

At the first village we came across it was coffee break time and despite how early it was in the morning some of the locals were already drinking beer or wine. Bert sat down and I went in to the order the coffees. These dually arrived and the proprietor asked us if we were walking the Francigena, both replying yes Bert to Aosta and me hopefully or Rome. At the mention of this she commented how pleased she was for us and the coffees were on the house..... One of the first kindnesses we had been shown as Pilgrims. We naturally had to responded by buying second coffees before we set off again. There was no sign of our Pilgrims friends as they were taking a different route.

Our path soon took us up into the mountain side and along very narrow and steep paths above the road and the river below. Despite the tranquility and beauty of the walk, it was one to be taken cautiously as one missed step could have resulted in a very nasty fall. The path was indistinguishable in places and only marked from boulder to boulder as we picked our way along. After a while traipsing along the hillside we descended close to the road before crossing a dry gorge bed and then once more climbing up to and scrambling across the mountain hillside. 

From Sembrancher the route took us along Sigerics original footpath to Rome via the village of Ossieres and our booked bed and breakfast that had been recommended to us. On reaching the village naturally we had to go to the first bar to replenish our fluid levels. Once accomplished we made our way to the b&b and sat in the garden until the owner arrived. Our room for the night was too very apart single beds......and a balcony to hang our washing out on. Once more we were treated to views of the Alps and the formidable task that awaited us the next day...the constant climb up to St Bernard's pass. Something we were looking forward to with nervous trepidation, but that was a for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Bex to Martigny

Monday 27 July 2015 - 23 kilometres

After the long previous day and a very arduous climb to the convent, today was to be a relative easy one. All four Pilgrims virtually set off together and in Saint Maurice we stopped off in the Abbaye Saint Maurice, parts of which date back to the Middle Ages. The sister at Les Polous are from the order of Saint Maurice. 

We left Saint Maurice behind and was soon climbing into the woods along the side of the valley. Our path took was to take us over a bridge across a wide gorge, but the bridge had been washed away, a clear indication of the amount and force of the water that comes from down the mountain. We made a detour up the mountain side to cross the gorge that currently resembled more of a stream rather than a raging torrent. We descended the hillside to happen across a pub / cafe with a table and seats outside so it would have been rude not to stop. Once again we had our morning coffees and I took the opportunity to get some air to my feet and to dispense to first aid to them. After about ten minutes our fellow Pilgrims appeared and as they reached us asked me how my feet were, I pointed to the battered and plastered appendiges and Margy just burst out laughing.......She did however apologies, but I did understand her mirth. Bert asked how they had got across the gorge and they replied that coming across the broken bridge they had just gone to one side and walked across the stream!

Our fellow Pilgrims carried on and we were also soon on our way, the day being an uneventful one until we arrived at the Pisse Vache waterfalls. Now I don't speak French but it has since been pointed out to me the literal translation of that name. The first part well it speaks for itself just make it the second word of the sentence and you have cow p**s waterfalls..... 

From the waterfalls we ambled through orchard before arriving at Martigny. We had not booked accommodation and so headed to the local church office to seek a bed for the night. We were again received with open arms and enthusiasm and after completing all the paperwork and receiving a Pilgrim stamp for our passports, we were taken to our own flat. In Martigny they have a small flat available that consists of a working kitchen with some limited supplies, a bathroom with a bath! And a dining / bedroom / living room. All this for just twenty Swiss francs a absolute bargain. There was just one very small almost insignificant problem... And that was the distance between the two single beds.... I think you might have been able to get a piece of paper between the beds...just! But they were definitely two single beds

After the hot days walk we went in search of some sustenance and more of our five a day with two beers each and then to the supermarket to stock up on supplies. It is very expensive for everything in Switzerland so with that in mind I volunteered to cook for Bert, nothing elaborate just a pizza and a fresh salad all washed down with a bottle of local white wine.

We retired to bed early and despite the close proximity to each other we both slept well.

Montreaux to Bex (Saint-Maurice)

Sunday 26 July 2015 - 34 kilometres

We woke early as it was a long walk today to our accommodation at the convent Les Poules in Bex. This was not on my original planned stop over for the guide book that I am using but in Berts book it is a must stop over, so we we're going to do it.

After an interesting breakfast with Kevin, our new friend, and the completion of selfies, we were on our way just after 8am. The days walk continued where we left off the previous day, walking alongside and to the end of lake Geneva. The day once more was hot and sunny and soon, just before entering Villeneuve the route took us past the 12th century Chateau Chillon.

We have developed a well tried and tested routine now for the days walking that involves a coffee break in the morning and afternoon and with one such occasion we took the opportunity to sit on a hotel jetty set out for the guests hotel breakfasts on the lake. It was very tempting to just sit there for the day with lake stretching out in front of us with views as far as Lausanne but knowing the distance in store for us we wasted no time and was on the way once we'd had not one but two coffees.

The route took us away from the lake to walk alongside the river Rhone for much of the day. With caffeine levels seriously depleting we stopped off at Illarsaz to rehydrate, my feet were a bit sore with the constant pounding on the hard walk surface and so I felt I needed a reward and bought a gorgeous apple flan type thing and it also counted as one of my five a day. We sat there outside in the sun drinking coffee, eating our sandwiches which we had made from our breakfasts at the hostel. Two more coffees drunk and once more we were on our way to continue along the Rhone.

As the day progressed and our end goal became nearer I happened to casually ask Bert where we were heading for and he jokingly see that white house in the far distance, the one at the top of the hill, that's where we're heading. My reply was something akin to......if it is then you are carrying me up there!!

How little did we both know how true his remark was. We left the river and asked for directions the centre of Bex where we hoped to pick up directions for the convent. As we neared the centre a car pulled alongside us an the same couple we had asked directions offered us a lift to the convent. We proudly declined later to regret such generosity.

We continued on our March slowly slowly ascending hoping that at every corner we had reached our goal, only to find out that the road was just going up and up. Naturally my conclusion, much to Berts amusement, was that the white house he had pointed out was in fact to be where we were staying. After what seemed a lifetime we walked through the door of the convent to be met by a very joyful Sister Margaret. She was very enthusiastic to hear where we had come from and our intended end points and after explaining what time Vespers was and the meal times, we went to our respective rooms. O what joy to have some private space, a comfy bed and en-suite facilities.

After a wash and brush up and some quick washing I went to the church to attend the Vespers service. During my Pilgrim walk I have attended a few of these services but this one was to be different again. The service was very personable, with different nuns leading prayers which were sung and different sides of the nuns responding.  There were about thirty nuns of varying ages but significantly very few younger ones which probably indicates that as a vocation it is not attractive to current generations. There were two other Pilgrims attending and a special prayer was devoted to our safe travel....for me it was a moving experience.

After the service we all went for the evening meal which was simple but sufficient with local wine served too. It transpired that the two other Pilgrims were from Holland and Bert was pleased to here his mother tongue. I was quite happy to sit and hear the conversations but on occasions he three were keen to talk in English so I could join in the conversation. Our new Pilgrim friends were also heading in our direction but their guide book took them on a different route to the one I was using. Soon it was time to retire and get some well deserved sleep.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Lausanne to Montreaux

Saturday 25 July 2015 

The route today started with a long stretch along the main road out of the city before reaching the edge of Lake Geneva. Again the day was to be a long and hot one, with very little opportunity to shelter from the sun.

After walking on the main road it was soon nice to briefly walk along the lake. Our route taking us so close that the waves splashing and breaking across the path gave us both much amusement. Especially when I was too slow to avoid a decent soaking, much to Berts amusement. We left the lake and headed up to and to walk through the grape vines above the lake. Our route took us through Culley and arriving at a Boulongerie it would have been rude to walk past so we availed ourselves of their finest coffee........a cake for Bert and savoury tart for me. Well it is important to keep the energy levels up!

We continued on our way, once again meandering up and down and through the vineyards above the lake. Every now and then Bert mentioning that we were nearing a station and we could get a train, or a bus!

We never formally stopped for a lunch stop we just grazed when we took an opportunity to stop and have water and a short rest. Taking every opportunity to marvel at the sight of the lake and the views of the Alps ahead in the far distance and our ultimate direction.

Before not too long we were down by the lakeside and enjoying the pleasures it had to offer. We stopped a couple of times to phone our accommodation for the night but each time there was no reply. In Montreaux we were getting a bit desperate so Bert spoke to the Villeneuve tourist information asking if they knew of anywhere that could provide accommodation with Pilgrim prices. Well so and so hotel have Rome for one hundred and sixty Swiss Francs, or there is a cheaper one at one hundred and twenty. No thanks, he replied. We were both not surprised that for some reason the tourist information do not understand or support the Pilgrims that pass through.

I found the details of an International Youth Hostel in my guide book in Montreaux and tried to contact them but they were closed until 5pm. I sent a text message to my wife, Rachel, to ask if she could check if they had rooms and the reply came back that they did not......formidable!

We decided to wait and just before 5pm we were first in the queue at the hostel reception to seek a room. We were in luck, accommodation was ok and soon we were once more going through the routine of making beds and getting refreshed. 

Tonight we were both in for a treat.......the room we had been allocated had other beds free and this were given to three Taiwanese young men who were travelling Europe. I met them first in the dormitory whilst I was literally operating on my very blistered heel, using scissors and the opposite hand I am used to using. As the more talkative approached me very closely he uttered loudly, o my goodness what are you doing?..........operating on my foot. Why? .....Because I need to so I can walk. Where are you from......England, I replied whilst trying to concentrate on what I was doing. England, I wrote a letter to your Queen and I can sing your national anthem, do you want me to sing it.....Er no!  She wrote me a letter back..........Did she invite you for tea with Phillip? I uttered whilst still trying to sort my ankle out, concentrating with all my might. I was certain I might chop my foot off if the conversations continued.

What is your job? The conversation continued whilst my new friend was almost breathing in my ear watching what I was doing. .........I am a long distance walker and writer! You are a writer, a very famous writer, what is your name? ........No I am not a famous writer, I just write the walks I do for others to follow. I don't think he understood that. Suffice to say the conversation did end and I did manage to successfully operate on my ankle without having to sew my foot back on because I had chopped it off. The rest of the night passed without any further events but Bert (my walking companion) did mention that he had met my enthusiastic friend and he had told Bert is name, and then stated that his English name was Kevin!!!!

The next morning we all woke early and Kevin was keen to join us for breakfast. This proved once more to be very interesting. Kevin's thirst for knowledge and information knew no bounds. He informed us that they were all traveling firstly to Interlaken, then to Munich and finally to Amsterdam and the red light area. We all laughed and I told Kevin he had to be careful taking pictures. Over breakfast we talked about the history of his country and some of the events. He asked us if any of our parents had been to old did he think we were? I mentioned my Grandfather was on the beaches on D Day. Kevin then proceeded to name every one of the beaches!

We returned the questions and mentioned that there were a lot of Oriental people on holiday and could he tell which countries they cam from. Very proudly he told us the countries people were from in the breakfast room. But the icing on the cake was when he told us that he can't tell where the western people come from because they all look the same........we all burst out laughing. I think we all could have stayed there all day swapping stories ........ Before we left Kevin was keen for our photograph and we reciprocated with a selfie.

As we continued on our Pilgrim journey we reflected on our experience with Kevin and both shared the same thought that an evening and morning was good, but 45 days....their holiday period, well Kevin's friends were very lucky to have his company!

Orbe to Lausanne

Friday 24 July 2015

We woke refreshed and raring to go. Today was to be a long day and with the hot sun and high temperatures it was not going to be easy.

Bernard insisted on showing us the way out of the town and a path that would give us some shelter and respite from the sun. It was very decent of him to provide this support, but one couldn't help but reflect it was like being marched out of town hoping we would never return! Bernard is not a young man and he walked at quite a pace with Bert and I trailing behind hoping he would slow down a bit. We were taken past the home and birthplace of Nestle and Nescafé and soon then on our own we followed the instructions we had been given to reach the river and the all important shade.

With the mission of reaching the river accomplished, we were both surprised to find the way markers for the official route we should have been following anyway. After ten kilometres and one of the first serious hill climbs so far we both took the opportunity of a log pile that sufficed as tables and chairs and soon our packs were discarded and we both replenished our energy levels.

After ten minutes of rest we set off once more but unfortunately we had not stopped at the top of the hill, and once more we were climbing as our path continued through the woods. At Goumoens-le-Lux the village shop had seats outside so we decided to have our first coffees for the day. We were greeted with a smile and enthusiasm at the walk we were undertaking and although the shop was due to close we were very welcome to sit outside as long as we wanted. It was nice to get the feet up, drink coffee, have our lunch and just enjoy the moment. Little did we know that we were being watched by a different 'wee man' from the roof across the road!

By now the midday sun was at its highest and hottest and we were only half way to the end of the day, so reluctantly we set off once more. The route continued on woodland tracks and minor roads. We are both of a similar mind and interests and neither of us would ever pass off the opportunity for a coffee, and about mid afternoon we spied a local hotel and dived to the nearest table under the shelter of a tree to once more to top up our fluid levels. Whilst sat there we were passed by our fellow Pilgrims but they carried on.

With fluids once more topped up, we set off on our final stretch, to the end point and the suburb of le-Mont-sur-Lausanne. Bert informed me that Luasanne was a very large city and from our end point it would not be a nice walk to the centre and our Backpackers accommodation, so we got the bus and did not feel guilty one bit!

Distance - 28.6 kilometres
Distance from Citeaux Abbey, Dijon - 162.8 kilometres

Jougne to Orbe

Thursday 23 July 2015

After the storm the previous day we woke to a cloudy, humid morning with the freshness of the rain hanging in the air. After a typical final French breakfast we set off to walk down from the village past the Chapel of St Maurice, parts of which date back to the nine century. The path continued along part of what was a Roman road and formerly a main route across the Swiss border - today there was just myself, Bert and Wee Man crossing.

At the first village we decided that it was time enough to search out a coffee spot. A local gentleman bid us bonjour and after asking the question we were told the hotel was closed but the local shop served coffee! Sure enough the hotel was closed so we turned round and popped into the shop. Two coffees later, a chat with the locals and we were once more on our way.

The area around here is littered with tank defences and bunkers from the Second World War. Some of the bunkers have been turned into barns and accommodation.

The route continued steeply down out into the valley bottom, before briefly climbing once more to pass alongside the valley gorge and the river snaking through it. We were in and out of the shade of the trees and the air was sticky and humid.

Before reaching our destination we came across two Pilgrims also from Holland. Bert burst into conversation and surprisingly was able to understand them. After swapping Pilgrim stories we continued once more to reach our final destination of Orbe and two very welcome cold beers each.

Once replete we head off to our accommodation which we had booked the previous night. Prices are generally expensive for accommodation and food in Switzerland, so any opportunity to save money is welcome. For this night we are Pilgrim guests of Bernard and Annette and our room was a small flat in the attic of there large farm house. With a small kitchen and living  / sleeping area, we did want for anything more. Bert informed me he did not cook so I offered to rustle something up. Once the shopping was completed we were soon dining on pasta arrabiata, fresh salad and a cool Chardonney to wash it down with.

With all the chores completed we just mooched around the flat before eventually heading outside and the cool evening air and then finally to bed.

Distance - 17.9 kilometres
Distance from Citeaux Abbey, Dijon - 134.2 kilometres

A new start and a new friend !

Tuesday / Wednesday 21/22 July 2015

Today I arrived where I left off in Pontalier, hopefully feet rested, bag lighter and now raring to go. Once again it was the usual routine, find somewhere for coffee and then head to the International hostel to wait for it to open at 5.30pm.

Looking towards La Cluse village and the valley beyond.
This time things were going to be much different. Fate had a pleasant surprise in store for me this time. After being quenched with good strong coffee I made my way to the hostel and sat in the sun to read my book and wait for it to open. It was at that point that fate was to deal its hand. I was again engrossed in another crime thriller and just reaching another exciting twist to the story when a man with a rucksack made his way towards me and sat down. I was to later on find out his name was Bert from Breda in Holland!

After sitting down he politely said, Bonjour and asked if I spoke French, Bonjour and no I only speak a little French. Agh you are English he replied easily and it was from that point onwards that fate arrived! It transpired as the conversations unfolded that we were both Pilgrims heading in the same direction although Bert planned on finishing in Aosta before returning to work and I was heading to Vercelli. We continued throughout the evening swapping stories about walking and generally getting to know each other.

The following morning although we were finishing in Jougne we were taking two separate routes. My day was a pleasant twenty kilometre walk after stocking up with supplies for the day at the Boulongerie. With rations purchased I continued out of Pontalier and was soon in the countryside following the train line to Switzerland. Train lines were to be a continuing theme for the day. 

My route soon took me away from the current railway line into a beautiful sunny valley and then up to the ancient monument of Chateaux Fort de Joux. After descending down a very steep and narrow path I arrived in Oye et Pallet. Once again to follow a railway line but this time one that had not seen a train for a long time. As I made my way along the ravaged, scarred and eroded surface it eventually transformed into a scenic railway line and to my surprise with two former Orient Express carriages being restored to carry passengers once more. 

Orient Express carriage being restored.

My route continued alongside the track which was not being used. By now it was early afternoon and the forecasted storm looked imminent with brooding black skies and a light breeze that was starting to increase in strength. My route was to leave the track but before that occurred the weather turned, the rain started to fall and the skies started to rumble and flicker with lightening. Now last year I was caught in a violent storm in the middle of a field as it passed over my head. Not wishing to experience that again I changed my route and continued along the line to the next village.

As I neared the village the rain was increasing in strength and despite the humid air I put my waterproof jacket on. Not long after that a motorway bridge came to my rescue and as the forces of nature literally fell out of the sky, I jumped onto the concrete barrier, put my feet up and replenished my energy, gleefully watching the torrents of water run down the road. Little did I know that this was going to be repeated twice before the end of the day!

After a well deserved break, some food and drink the weather eventually turned to one of very light drizzle and time to set off again on the last few kilometres to my Chambre de Hote for the night. I passed through the village, ignoring the numerous opportunities to quaff more of the dark nectar of French coffee. As I left I was soon to realise the error of my ways as the heavens once more emptied heavy rain down on me. I spied a pub not too far away in the direction I was travelling and with the thoughts of a coffee made a beeline following the shortest possible line.......Ferme (closed) it 
announced. Not being one to be defeated I hunkered down in the doorway, rucksack on the floor, feet elevated and 
watched the rain fall and the thunder and lightening bounce around the sky once more.

I checked my location in relation to my end point and realised that I was probably only 1km away, so as the rain eased off to a fine missel I set off on my third attempt to reach my destination dry. The route took me off the road and down to an underpass, unfortunately due to the heavy rain this now resembled a river and without a lightweight portable boat on hand I decided to do an about turn and follow the road. 

Formidable....... As I turned round the heavens opened again, I briefly hesitated under the smelly ugly underpass wondering what my step was going to be and spying a garage across the road I made my way there. Fortunately a jet 
wash canopy came to my rescue and a took shelter under it. I am sure the locals using the garage were quiet amused at the sight I presented, loitering without intent under there.

After another thirty minutes the clouds started to turn blue and the dark skies moved on and within about ten minutes I was finally walking through the door of the Hotel de Poste, my refuge for the night and a very welcome and very cold beer! They even had a welcome sign and Union Jack poster on the reception desk......just for me.

Distance - 19.3 kilometres
Distance from Citeaux Abbey, Dijon - 116.3 kilometres