I sleep a long time in my grand suite and wake up with the light – not the sun – coming in through the window. Outside it is gray and raining lightly. Oh well. I have good rain gear and it is getting a great test.
At 8 AM there is a knock on the door and M. Roue, my host, brings in a tray of breakfast. So not only do I have this whole floor to myself, I get room service, including two kinds of homemade jam and gateau maison, a sweet bread made by Mme. Roue. All this for 18 Euros.
By the time I leave at 9:15, the clouds have broken up and there is sun peeking through with lots of blue sky showing. It looks very promising for the day. I very soon have to take off my fleece. But it is a cruel trick. Within the hour, the skies have clouded over and then the eventual rain starts, lightly at first and then more steadily. I had decided to walk the highway option, just north of the river Lot, rather than the GR65 option. I can see the hills immediately south of the river and they look severe. They are heavily wooded and come right down to the water’s edge. The river is about 20 metres across and is fast water, but it is not over the banks. Just wait until all that snow at Nasbinal melts!
Where I am, on the north side of the river, just above the floodplain in a narrow valley, it is flat, with sparse traffic and the sides of the highway are flat crushed stone, so walking is easy. When traffic does come along, I step as far as I can to the left and sometimes just stop and wait for the vehicle to pass. Just to my right, across the highway, the hills climb in terraces to the summit. This south-facing slope is wine country, which is confirmed when I pass the Maison de la Vigne du Vin et des Paysages d’Estaing, which is a winery but is, unfortunately, closed.
I arrive by 12:30 in very good time, just over three hours for 19 km, much, much better than yesterday, five hours for 16.5 km.
Estaing is officially one of the prettiest villages in France. Unofficially, at the moment it is one of the wettest and coldest. This is a very photogenic town. There is a big four-arch bridge over the river Lot, which is about 35 metres wide as it flows through the town. I stand on it and get some, I think, good shots of the very old skyline here. The bridge is just wide enough for one vehicle so when a truck goes over it, I have to stand in a small triangular lay-by, obviously built for pedestrians caught as I am by a vehicle. Clearly when it was built, the vehicles were horse- or man-drawn.
And, of course, since we are in France, practically everything is closed, either for lunch or for the day. One restaurant is open, where I meet the Aussies, as well as Henk and a couple of others from two days ago. Soon after arrive, they all go on for Golhinac and points west, so I likely will not meet them again.
I order a substantial meal, which is a good thing since I discover that virtually everything will be closed this evening. While I am eating, Aurele and Jean-Louis arrive and join me at my table. They are mud to the knees, which is funny since it was Aurele who suggested the road as an alternative to the trail.
We go to a small Tabac, where the lady signs us in for the communal gite and gives us keys, warning us to keep the door locked at all times. The gite is 300 metres up the road in an old church building. It is a single dormitory of 20 beds, but every two beds are in a small, separate cubicle with a curtain door, so there is the illusion of privacy – not audible but visual. We have to be out by 9 AM.
Eileen and Nicolas have arrived at the gite as well, so it is turning into old home week. Several of us walk back into town, in a non-rainy moment (which doesn’t last) and the nice lady from the Tabac has called one of he friends who has opened up her food store so that we can purchase the makings for dinner and breakfast. I also get my credential stamped at the Tabac.
A funny story from yesterday. When I arrived in St. Come d’Olt I could not find the gite. I saw four young people, locals and asked them where it was. But I started by saying, in French; “J’ai un question. Je suis Canadien Anglais.” One of the pert young things, and she was pert, responded; “Et je suis Française Française.” Big laugh all around and I had the perfect retort, but while I was trying desperately to translate the past tense of “I have” as in “I had gathered that”, the moment passed. My language skills failed me when I needed them most. Apparently she is not familiar with the persuasion of Canadians who have to preface their nationality with the sub-genre, as if being just Canadian is not quite enough.
And I learned an important lesson. Well, important for me. I do not have to explain where I come from when I speak a foreign language. The audience will figure out soon enough that I am not local and, if they care, will ask where I come from. And I will then, only then, tell them that I am Canadien and only if they really care, Canadien Anglais.
Several other people have arrived at the gite, so we are about 10 people. One of them is Sylvie Charette, probably in her 30’s, from the south shore of Montreal. She started in Le Puy and is going to see how far she can get in 45 days.
And here is a factoid that Marina will just love. Jean-Louis whistles the theme song from the Wizard of Oz when he is doing something. Takes me back.