Shame that I had an attack of the munchies before retiring to bed last night. It is somewhat disconcerting to rise out of bed in the morning after having dropped bits of chocolate the night before into one’s bed.
Today is Easter Monday and the first dancing day of the year for The Shropshire Bedlams and Martha Rhoden’s Tuppenny Dish. We are very pleased to be dancing today as it will probably be the last one for quite a long time. When I said that today was a day of rest I didn’t really mean it.
We are 11 days into the trip and having a rest day in Great Malvern. Despite all of the comments about the weight of my rucksack, 12+ Kg, I am finding it quite comfortable and, as yet, have no intention of ditching any of the contents. There were a few comments about my Braun electric toothbrush plus charger but these were from people who like to walk 100 miles in one day. We, on the other hand, are walking 1500 miles in 6 months so need a little more comfort
I would never have bought a Swiss Army knife for myself but, thanks to the generosity of my former colleagues who gave it to me, I would not now be without it.
The most difficult practical matter is how to attach stuff to the straps of my rucksack. During the day it would be great to have satmap, binoculars, camera, knife etc readily to hand rather than in the depths of my capacious trouser pockets. My trouser pockets are so heavy with all of this stuff that I am in constant danger of a sudden catastrophic debagging and consequent loss of personal dignity. I am going to try string today and see how that goes.
We have really undergone a drastic downsizing over the last 4 months. Large 4 bedroom house to small 1 bedroom cottage to 2 rucksacks. The only thing I should like to have had room for in the rucksack, and the strength to carry, is an accordion.
Today we have rested. apart from a trip to the laundrette. The White Hart is very comfortable with an enormous bed and bath in the room. Last night we disovered that the people in the adjacent room have a bathroom abutting our bedroom. I now know that the bloke in that room coughs when he goes to the loo and that the fan in their bathroom runs for a longer time than ours.
The laundrette is in Moreton in Marsh, another pretty Cotswold town. It was quite a treat to take the bus and to travel four miles in only 8 minutes. I thought that we might faint travelling at this breakneck speed.
Stow is rather quiet in the evenings, I was talking to a barman who said that nothing happened in the evenings. He was right, all is tranquil just the quiet hum of grey hairs having a quiet pint.
Another rest day for us at Stow. It is quite odd to see how busy the town is this Sunday morning. Tourist buses are arriving in the square regularly and most shops seem to be open.
We went into the tourist information place in order to get some ‘phone numbers for tomorrow and realised that the assistant gave incredibly detailed information when asked for things to do in Stow. It was our great misfortune to be second in the queue so we were able to benefit from this information as much as did the enquirer to whom it was directed. I would have quite liked the opportunity to sit him in the stocks and heave stuff in his direction.
These rest days have enabled us to sort out our kit, make some running repairs and get some stiff brushes with which to clean the dried mud off our shoes.
Last night we were awoken by a strange, unearthly, glow appearing in the corner of our bedroom. On further examination it became apparent that the power had gone off and that the emergency light had come on. On waking up, the power in the bathroom was still not working which made the usual morning activities problematic as thebathroom fan was inactive. The maintenance bloke showed me the distribution board so, if this happens again, I can reset the trip and lavatorial comfort will be restored.
I can recommend highly the cream tea produced by the Tea Shop here in Stow as well as the sweet shop which sells aniseed balls with an aniseed in the centre.
Today is a day of no stroll. The weather is dull and drizzly so we haven’t missed out on anything very much by having an indoor day. I am realising how useful it is to be near to a railway station which has frequent trains going to useful places and at useful times.
I have been wrestling with an application which will show on a map the progress of the trip so far but am coming to the conclusion that I shall have to do some manual work on the files in order to get them to show properly on the blog.
I have been surprised by the usefulness of walking poles. When strolling over Offa’s Dyke they came into first use and have been in almost daily use since then. It is a shame that Janet’s poles have failed and that mine are too long to go under the rainproof covering of my rucksack. Today we have bought a pair of replacements and look forward to tomorrow to try them out. Whilst staring at the fine array of poles on display I foolishly showed a passing interest in a pair of gaiters. The assistant then demonstrated how to attach the gaiters to me, I couldn’t see how they would work with trainers, my chosen strolling footwear, but the bloke tried with all his might to make them work for me. It was only after abject failure that he confessed that he hated gaiters and never wore them himself.
We are sitting quietly in sarah’s sitting room, Janet scanning some notes we made in a French lesson last December and me staring out at Basingstoke.
Tomorrow we shall stroll from Reading to California.
Today’s Monday, today’s Monday is everybody ‘appy? You bet your life we are!
Monday is washing day, both us and our clothes. Long soak in a comfortable bath and then a visit from Will, Rachel, Annabel, Lucy, Alana, Gwen, loads of scones, butter and homemade jam. Another highlight to add to the many we have already had, the delivery of a take away afternoon tea.
We are not having an official stroll today but went for an unofficial stroll through the Bourne Woods in the sunshine instead. I am always astonished to see how sandy and flinty the soil is here, yet the trees flourish.
For much of the early part of the journey we have been accompanied by the sound of larks in the damp air. It has been quite odd that, since approaching Reading, we have heard none. Yesterday we saw our first House Martin/Swallow type bird zooming low and scooping up insects.
As it was a public holiday here restaurants were shut last night so we went to look for some supper. Near to the hotel was a sort of chip shop filled with eager chip eaters. The chips are served on trays, not little plastic efforts as in the UK but on enormous things that you could use to bring in the tea things, cups. saucers, plates, scones etc. People had one each of these monsters in front of them!
This morning we had a lie in after yesterday’s epic trek. I asked the receptionist if a map shop would be open today. She shrugged hopelessly and said probably not. We went out to seek breakfast and to find out if the map shops were truly closed, they were closed, as were most bars.
Decision time, go forth without map again and with little chance of getting one before Arras? Or stay here for another day, rest and listen to the last day of the Windies test?
The clock in the Mairie has a carillon which plays a different tune on the hour and at each quarter. I think that I know the hour one but can’t remember its name.
Our host has an uncanny resemblance to Herbert Lom and I find this quite distracting as I eat my breakfast every day.
As we had made very little forward provision for our accommodation, we had to move rooms this morning, up to the third floor. When I had finished packing my stuff Janet was fairly keen to have a clear run at doing her stuff without me tapping my fingers and cracking my finger joints so I went out to look at what was happening in the square. It was very interesting to look at the enormous street market which was getting itself established.
The stalls contained all manner of things from small home grown vegetable and home made sausage stalls to large outfits selling meat, cheese, clothing etc. A wonderfully colourful sight with thousands of people cramming into the square and little roads which run from it.
We had been told by a laundrette person in Dover that some Australians had not been able to find a laundrette in France and so had had to wait until they got to Blighty to wash their clothes. Well, we have seen loads of the things in every town. This morning we set of eagerly towards one of these frequent laundrettes to get our smalls and bigs clean.
I’m not too sure from where France gets its reputation for good regional food. In every town and village we have visited so far getting a plate of food without a massive portion of chips has been impossible. Last night the starter was a bowl of crudities so the first veg of this leg of the trip was eagerly devoured. We spent part of this afternoon in the tourist office trying to find out about the next leg of our trip. The girl behind the counter suggested that there were only fields where we want to go. As we came and went into the tourist office we saw two wedding parties going in and coming out of the registry office. Quite nice to think that they and we all share the same anniversary date.
A high spot was a trip up the Beffroi on the Mairie. One ascends partly in a lift and then up some open stairs which then finally open out onto a narrow balcony with a stone parapet. The views over Arras are wonderful from this point. I had a squeak of surprise when a local mother raised her child up to the parapet so that he could look over the top.
In order to avoid chips, tonight we ate a pizza. One would imagine that a pizza would taste the same wherever made but tonight’s pizza was definitely French.
Although our accommodation here is modest in size it is quite comfortable. I write sitting under Stuart Altman’s donated washing line with a pair of my Tilley knickers drying nicely above my head. Janet’s Tilley’s are drying over her head
The Premiere Classe hotel is not to be found in the place described by Google, in fact we have found that this tendency to error is not an uncommon thing with Google. The hotel is on the periphery of St Quentin and although we haven’t strolled today in an official capacity we have wandered about to find stuff. Our first task was to find some food for tomorrow’s lunch to eat during the official stroll. My shoes, purchased during the week of our departure from the UK, are beginning to look tired. The soles are losing grip and holes are starting to appear in the uppers. I found a large discount shoe emporium and went in, encouraged by the unmistakable smell of rubber. All the shoes on display were far too weak for my needs, only the casual stroller could possibly be pleased to wear such feeble footwear.
After a post prandial nap we set off into the centre of St Quentin in order to find the next set of maps to take us to Reims. The weather has been a little unsettled and the rain came down in torrents as we arrived in the town centre.
The rain finally went away leaving behind lots of puddles and a blue sky although turning around we could see what some other lucky blighters might be getting.
I am going to have a stab at inserting a video into this post. It is of the town hall square and the carillon in the clock. It is not top quality as it was shot on a small camera plus my arms were being jostled by people huddled under a shop canopy with me.
No official walking or strolling today. Today has been a day of catching up with washing and replenishing supplies of various soapy stuff, foot care products and maps. Yesterday’s stroll in the wet convinced me that my comfortable strolling shoes are comfortable no more. The soles are thin, the uppers are holed, any water resistance has long since disappeared and they have acquired a strange smell. Not the smell of feet or of any recognizable body secretion but a pungent earthiness which is not completely unpleasant, if the shoes are placed on the balcony at night rather than in the bedroom.
I discovered today that size 12 feet are not common in France so all you size 14 people had better get your shoes elsewhere. I have had to buy the only pair of shoes which fitted me so tomorrow will have an added ingredient of uncertainty.
We now have an electric kettle as part of our kit and I am enjoying a cup of tea made with water boiled in the very same kettle. Janet is delighted as she wlll be able to have a hot water bottle which is hot once again.
This isn’t the first visit to Reims for us and as we both really like the city it has been a pleasure strolling around as we do our bits and pieces of business.
Looking through the few photos of today I can see that my obsessions are obvious. All the pictures are of the tramway, the one above does have a bit of the cathedral poking out in the background. The most spectacular building is the cathedral but my photos are of trams. I must lift up mine eyes etc.
Last time we were here the centre of the city was in turmoil as a new tramway was being created. Driving around was a complete nightmare as all of the one way system was subject to diversion. Now the tramway is finished and it looks magnificent. If we don’t make any mistakes during tomorrow’s stroll there might be time for a tram trip.
Today was to be the day that we finally arrived in Reims on foot. A look at Janet’s shoes made it clear that no walking would be done today. She has cleaned and waterproofed the shoes but they were not ready to be used. We had a day off instead in order to sleep in a bit, get the missing bits we have lost off walking poles etc and go to the laundrette once again. In the laundrette we had a chat to a German lady who was drying her tennis balls in the tumble drier.
If you are the proud possessor of a pair of walking poles and you go into an outdoor shop and you see new plastic guard things on sale in a sealed plastic bag and the assistant advises that they are standard and will fit all makes, beware. The sizes are not standard.
The newly laid tram tracks are infilled with grass rather than asphalt or concrete and it gives a garden effect to the broad, largely traffic free, streets. Some careless dog owners appear to believe that the grass has been planted there for the convenience of them and of their pets.
The large grass cutter also had a small friend.
One of the first treats this morning was a tram ride. The machine which sells the tickets is not very clear in its advice about which ticket one needs. We bought what we believed to be a ticket for two people to travel for one hour anywhere in the city. the first attempt at buying s ticket was unsuccessful. The machine refused our coins then refused my credit card. The machine on the other platform was more helpful.
The trams are powered in the town centre by a third rail system, developed to ensure that people are not barbecued if they the touch the things. I haven’t seen anyone putting one foot on the power rail and the other on a return rail yet so I can’t vouch for the the safety of the system.
It was a great pleasure today to be able to sit under a parasol in the sun with a beer as we waited for the clothes to finish washing themselves in the laundrette. Lunch yesterday and today has been eaten in a small brasserie attached to our modest hotel. We have enjoyed real French food at last, no frites. The brasserie is festooned all about with Union Flags and even a large England flag. I read that 3.5 million French people watched the jubilee celebrations on the telly so, who knows?
We have just managed to get some accommodation for Sunday night and so all is looking good for next week. We even have enough maps to take us past Monday’s stroll. It is very strange to be so well prepared.
We have a little balcony overlooking the street and this evening the nicer weather has brought people out on to the streets. The German lady in the laundrette with the damp tennis balls told us that there is a light show in the square by the cathedral tonight at 11:00pm so I think that it is about time that we stopped tapping and disappeared out into the night.
Having reappeared from the night the light and sound show at the cathedral was absolutely stunning. I took photographs but, of course, they are a feeble record of the event. Go to Reims and see the show. Instead I have added a picture of home, for today anyway.
It was impossible to find accommodation in St Martin-aux-Champs for last night so we caught one of the very infrequent buses into Vitry-le-Francois and to a room in the Hotel Cloche. Our room is large and not too expensive in a very comfortable logis de france hotel.
After breakfast we went for an unofficial stroll in order to give the person charged with doing our bedroom the opportunity to get on with it. Our bus back to St Martin-aux-Champs to continue official strolling was due to leave at 13:00 so we got to the bus stop in plenty of time to make sure that there were no problems. We bought some light refreshments at a boulangerie and sat down in the bus stop to eat them. The bus was waiting so Janet asked the driver if we could buy a ticket, this was not possible.
We had to go into the station and buy the ticket as the bus is an SNCF bus and so obviously needs a train ticket. As I was picking the hardboiled egg out of Janet’s sandwich and adding the bits to my own sandwich the bus driver suddenly said that we must be quick as she had to go, NOW!!. It was not only the driver shouting “Vite,vite!” but the passengers too. The driver requested that I fetch Janet from the train ticket office as she, the driver not Janet, was late and could now sell us a ticket.
With very good fortune Janet had already managed to buy the tickets so we hurried on board the bus and handed over our tickets for St Martin-aux-Champs to the driver for inspection. After some official stamping of the tickets we set off at a smart pace out of Vitry receiving our tickets from the passenger sitting in the seat in front of us.
We left the town behind us and set off down the busy dual carriageway and were enjoying the view. I am not that keen on too much pomp and circumstance on my birthday so a short bus trip of about 10 miles seemed to be the correct level of excitement for me.
As we continued onwards I took out the GPS and switched it on, purely for entertainment to add to the fun of the trip. It was a moment or two before it dawned on me that we were heading South East. St Martin-aux-Champs is North West of Vitry so something was clearly not going to plan or to St Martin.
The bus finally came to rest at the railway station of St Dizier and everyone got off, delighted to be at their destination. We stayed on the bus for a chat with the driver in order to let her know that we enjoyed the journey but would have liked a different destination.
Today’s stroll was now a washout but it really doesn’t matter at all and the whole thing was quite amusing. The bus driver explained to the ticket office bloke that she had kidnapped us so we then enjoyed the bureaucratic processes of SNCF. We had valid tickets for a journey, these had been validated but for the wrong journey. I would think that the simple option would be to tear up our tickets and issue new ones for tomorrow. This was not the option taken by SNCF. Firstly our tickets had the validation covered with some sort of ink, then the St Dizier stamp was added with a signature. In addition the words “Erreur de destination!!!” and “Personne etrangere” have been added in ink. In addition to this we have words to the effect that our alternative journey is authorised by SNCF.
We returned to Vitry by bus and wandered about for a bit, having a glass in a bar. On returning to our hotel we lazed about, looked at maps and listened to some radio. As it is now the hour of food here in France, we shall find a nice restaurant and enjoy a leisurely dinner.
We haven’t done a thing today. Lazed about all day long after a large lunch. We had a minor unofficial stroll around Joinville so that we could see the place after all the festivities had disappeared. Apart from bunting hanging around between the sides of the streets there was not even an old beer bottle or food wrapper to indicate that yesterday evening the place was full of eager eaters, drinkers and listeners.
We have been given access to the chambre d’hote washing machine so the spectre of underwear double use has disappeared over the horizon.
An early morning entertainment
If we find ourselves in this part of France again this is the place to stay
Le Val du Roy
Many years ago the town was overlooked by a huge castle, now disappeared apart from a few walls which are being made safe for public access.
Joinville from the castle
After our lunch and stroll about we sat for a moment or two in repose. Our hostess has a Swiss friend staying and she came up to invite us for a drink and a chat. Unfortunately we were fast asleep, probably with mouths open. So she quietly closed our bedroom door and let us doze on.
After receiving some professional advice from the family physio’ Janet has attached a bag of ice to her leg. She has also rubbed in a magic potion. It is a shame that we have no gin or tonic so that we can reuse the ice.
We are not strolling at the moment. In order to have a good stroll we need to be in possession of four good legs. Until we move up from three good legs back to four we will lie about and do nothing.
We intended to have a detour to Chaumont as part of the day off module as there is a massive viaduct over a wide river valley which we wanted to have a look at. So being reduced in the leg department is more of an inconvenience to Janet than a disaster. We have learned as well that Chaumont was given a great honour by the Pope, the Chaumont Grand Pardon. If the 24th June is a Sunday and all the people go and have a good old pray in the basilica on that day then all of their sins are forgiven. We arrived a day late unfortunately.
We didn’t eat the spectacles, just a ham sandwich!
I spotted this job which someone might fancy.
Chaumont is full of interesting buildings which we are intending to explore tomorrow.
Before settling down with a beer and a piece of local cheese I went out just for a stroll around Chaumont tonight. Most of the towns we have visited further north show the signs of past conflicts. Some of the towns being completely flattened and then rebuilt in the late forties and fifties. Chaumont feels as though most of the centre of the town is as it was hundreds of years ago and is a joy just to stroll through. On my evening stroll tonight I noticed a music shop with a closing down sale. In the window is an ancient 3 row melodeon. I might pop down there tomorrow, just for a look!!
The air tonight is filled with swallow/swift/house martin type birds tucking in to a banquet of insects and zooming about putting on a fabulous display.
I am attempting to combine all the daily stroll tracks into one. The trial thing is one of the links on the right hand side of the page. I have got to June so far as I am too mean to buy a proper GIS programme and am using home made stuff. Fingers crossed, I might get the thing to do all sorts of things.
It is so comfortable here that perhaps we’ll stay. We had a leg trial this morning, which seemed to go reasonably well. We found the music shop with the melodeon in the window and entered. I mentioned to the owner of the shop that he had an accordion in his window, in case he had forgotten that it was there. He replied very firmly indeed to the effect that it was his and not for sale or for anything else. We left the shop feeling that it probably was unplayable and would need lots of costly repairs so it was all for the best really.
I accused Janet of pinching his leg as a spare but it was nowhere to be found. If she starts walking stiffly I’ll know where it is.
The very beautiful viaduct is invisible from Chaumont although it is very near, very large and quite imposing. There are no signs to indicate where it is. One could visit Chaumont and never know that it existed. Apparently, it is possible to get a guided visit to the upper levels but they looked blocked off to me from below. We did have a stroll lovely stroll along the lower level and could let our imagination run free on what the top might reveal.
The thing was built very quickly in 1857 and had a bit of a bashing in August 1944 although I couldn’t see any sign that it hadn’t stood there since it had been built.
One of the more unusual features of the older town centre houses is a little tower thing on the outside. This tower type thing is the spiral staircase and, being outside, gives load of room inside the house.
The photo above is hopeless really and doesn’t show anything at all, unless you look carefully. I took it from the bedroom window, in the dusk with a piece of cheese in one hand. I had a camera in the other hand and used that to take the photo.
Our stroll today around Chaumont and its nooks and crannies gave us hope that we can start strolling once again. We will certainly need to stroll at a more stately pace and also make sure that we don’t go too far in one day from now on.
So, tomorrow we catch the train back to Joinville at 7:30 am and see how it all goes.
At breakfast this morning we continued our experiments as automatic egg boiling machine technicians. The results of our efforts were promising but not yet perfect. Unfortunately, we must leave the task of developing a perfect egg boiling technique to those who will follow us.
My feet have stood up quite well to the unusually strenuous activities that they have had to endure of late. Yesterday, however, one of these feet made an official complaint and indicated that if I continued to ignore its requests for better working conditions then it would withdraw its labour. Our bedroom had a very good shower but no bath. The bathroom sink was small and high so no chance of getting my foot into that. I asked Ludivine for a bowl in which to soak this unfortunate member expecting a plastic washing up bowl to be produced. What she gave me was a beautiful china bowl which had been her grandmother’s. I carried the bowl upstairs very carefully indeed. The bowl worked very well and the foot accepted its new working conditions gladly. This morning I attempted to return the bowl and picked it up in order to take it downstairs. For some reason Janet insisted that I leave it in the room, she appears to believe that I am a very clumsy person and would trip on the stairs and drop the lot. A laden rucksack, two walking poles, a door key plus the bowl would have been no problem for me at all particularly as I was wearing my large, heavy, new French walking boots for added stability.
At last we said a rather sad goodbye to our fabulous hostess, Ludivine Michel and, after lunch, ambled down to the railway station to get the train for Langres.
I have a small bottle of mirabelle in my rucksack as a parting gift. Perhaps now is the time to pour a small glass and say “salut”.
Langres is a fabulous walled town which has resisted attacks for more than a thousand years.
We were very glad when we got to the town from the plain. The hill just went up and up. For cars the road did ‘S’ bends, for us it just went straight up and up.
When we had finished toiling up to the top we learned that there had been a rack and pinion railway up until 1971. What a pity that we were 41 years too late to catch it.
Our host for tonight asked us if we knew why the town had been fortified. We didn’t have a clue why. He said “Over there used to be England, and it was to stop the English!”
The walls of the town are filled with slits so that defenders could shower their enemies with nasty things at will. The slits are set at all sorts of angles in the wall so that fire could be directed anywhere.
The landscape which used to be England looks quite like Shropshire.
As we took a constitutional evening stroll along he ramparts we could hear a tinkling noise behind us and, having got over the surprise, got out of the way of the tourist train. Along the top of the fortification runs a very narrow walkway. The twists and turns are sharp with the added element of odd bits of medieval masonry sticking out from the sides. I take my hat off to the nonchalant skills of the driver of this conveyance, particularly as she had her daughter, or somesuch person, sitting in the tiny driver’s compartment as well.
This map is not a stroll map but the fortified walls of Langres.
No official strolling today but we do have a rather splendid roof over our heads. As all of the hotels in this part of France are filled with cyclists, or their camp followers, things were beginning to look a bit tricky until we were rescued. The weather is very nice during the day but there have been very heavy showers during the night. A night under the stars did not have much appeal and so we tried an hotel on spec’.
The hotel was full, just like all of the others. We had a good old chat to the owner of the hotel and she kindly offered us instead a room in her chateau which she is setting up as a chambre d’hote, in Port-sur-Saône.
We were collected by our kindly hosts’s husband and brought to our chateau. The room is very large, a separate bathroom and a dressing room.
They found a small fridge for us and set it up in the dressing room for our sausage, cheese, tomatoes, salad, beer etc.
I had a fright though when I opened the door as everything was getting hot not cold for some reason. I have the beer cooling in one of the bathroom hand basins, the cheese and sausage will have to manage in the warm.
We are alone here, apart from the fifteen year old daughter and dog, as the owner and her husband are in Vesoul cooking and welcoming cyclists. We have a magnificent sitting room in which to relax and plan tomorrow.
Our host said that if the cyclists win then they drink a lot and want to stay up late. So from her perspective a failure means that she can clean and get away earlier.
We will be strolling tomorrow again without a map. The shop where these maps may be found is called CORA. CORA’s website says that they are open everyday. In France Sunday is not a day so we must go naked into the unknown.
We have wandered about quite a lot today but haven’t done very much apart from a visit to the launderette. So an earlyish night in order to get up at 5:30 am as we have a few miles of strolling to do. Fingers, toes and any other bendy bits are crossed for tomorrow’s exciting episode.
Yesterday (for Mattie’s benefit, 10/07/2012), we were obliged to stay in Vesoul in order to find maps, new ferules and some other stuff. We wandered about quite a lot as the stuff we needed could only be found in shops on the extremities of Vesoul. Having no wheels of any kind we used legs in an unassisted mode. I can understand now why cars have been such a successful invention as walking from one end of the town to the other along unfootpathed roads is quite a tedious, inefficient and time consuming exercise.
Rather than drone on for ages about Vesoul and other extreme tedium I’ll close this and talk about today.
When we were staying in Chaumont a guest in our chambre d’hote had an upset stomach which had disastrous consequences for the bathroom and the mattress in his room. This unfortunate event helped me to understand why a lot of hoteliers use either rubber sheets between the mattress and the bottom sheet or a specially designed impermeable mattress. We find these impermeable layers to be a great barrier to sleep and wake up bathed in an unhealthy, moist, miasma. Last night, or early this morning at about 4:30, we had a rubber sheet induced awakening and knew that we had to strip the bed, remove the rubber sheet and remake the bed. After this burst of activity we fell immediately into a deep and refreshing slumber. We woke up only just in time to eat breakfast. Tonight we shall sleep well as the rubber sheet is in a heap by the window and not between us and a good night’s sleep. I hope that we will sleep well as we intend to rise at 6:00 am in order to stroll some 23 miles from Ronchamp to arrive here in Belfort officially. If we can get off early, and don’t get lost, we can be in Belfort for the Bastille Day celebrations tomorrow evening.
Before we can make any decisions about the stroll’s next section, strolling into Switzerland, we needed to get some maps. We have still to decide whether it will be more congenial to go to Mulhouse and then on the Basel or to go straight to Basel. It will probably take three days to get to Basel whichever way we decide to go but, as we will probably set off on Sunday and today is Friday, we have loads of time to decide something as trivial as that.
The weather has been quite inclement today. It was rather pleasant in the morning but a steady, very heavy, downpour settled in in mid afternoon and is still going strong without any sign of respite. We were looking forward to an outdoor concert of traditional music tonight but that appears to have been shelved for now. At midnight a firework display has been arranged, I hope that this can still go ahead.
Our bedroom windows are open and I can hear the bang and crack of impromptu firework displays in the distance. If tonight’s main display does go ahead we shall have a grandstand view as the massive fortress, from which it will be launched, is directly opposite our bedroom window.
Today has been a day of rest and recuperation. We have lazed about shamelessly and have enjoyed the experience We have strolled about Basel a bit and now have a reasonable idea of its layout. A city with a stonking great river running through the place helps quite bit with geography.
Tomorrow we must collect together the bits and pieces we shall need for the rest of July, maps, timetables, accommodation lists and a sharpening stone for my knife. My trusty blade has coped with all sorts of stuff over the last three months and now it needs sharpening. From our bedroom window I can see a knife shop, so an early visit is in order I think to return my Swiss army knife to Switzerland.
It is an oddity that each country in Europe appears to have developed its own type of electrical socket. I have never expected the mighty British three pin plug, capable of carrying the power of an industrial arc welder, to fit its more refined continental cousins but the plugs we have for Italy seem able to coexist quite comfortably together with the sockets of France. It is here in Switzerland that things seem to have gone awry. The sockets look as though they could accommodate a French or Italian plug, but they won’t, no chance! So tomorrow we must find something to remedy this unfortunate state of affairs.
We are frantically relearning our German and some of it is beginning to surface again, let’s hope that it comes back quickly.
I won’t include a description, and pictures, of our wanderings about Basel in the guise of tourists today, only the stuff from the perspective of the long distance stroller. Stuff about Basel can be found all over the internet http://www.basel.com/en is a good place to start though.
As the French days and weeks went by we felt increasingly at home in France. Now we are starting the process of learning to be Swiss.We have bought chocolate, cheese and Janet has looked at some watches. Swiss German is a puzzle to those of us who have attempted to learn hochdeutsch, but we will make sense of it I’m sure, just as we are about to leave probably.
This morning we set out to find a shop where I could replace my worn out trainers. I had tried to get a new pair in France but my feet were too big for French shops,. I mean that French shops could not supply shoes in size 12 not that the doors were too narrow to allow entry. I hoped that Swiss feet might be larger than those found on the end of French legs, making the chance of getting a pair in my size in Switzerland more likely. The first shop was a dud but I had success in the second. The old pair, purchased in Charlie’s Stores Welshpool, are now languishing in a Basel skip.
With me proudly sporting my brand new pair of walking shoes we tried to get hold of some maps. A large book shop invited us in but was found to be wanting. Feeling a little down at this early failure we went to the tourist office just in case the officials there could help. As usual we were not really paying attention and wandered around the old town for a bit before we found the famous “i” sign. Although the tourist officer was keen to be helpful and was able to chat to us in English, we left empty handed and none the wiser. Our tourist officer did advise us to visit Thalia where he thought that maps might be found. If you need anything British when you are in Basel then Thalia is the place for you, digestive biscuits, books and all that sort of stuff. In addition to all that nonsense Thalia has an incredibly knowledgeable map person. We think that we have bought a good strolling map. The map has trails marked in red and roads in lighter colours, it looks a bit like the long distance walking map we had for the UK, but at 1:60000.
My trusty Swiss Army knife struggled to cut yesterday’s salami even though the salami had softened in the hot sun. From our hotel window there is the Messer Centre. I went in to the Messer Centre and became really aware of the difference between the UK and Switzerland. There were knives everywhere. There were folding knives of all types but also massive great cleavers of all sorts hanging everywhere. My tepid request for a knife sharpener seemed timid in such a forbidding environment particularly as there were some heavy looking individuals idling outside.
Having had a good look at our new maps we have nearly worked out how we shall stroll to Luzern. It looks as though we might be able to get to Luzern in 4 days, via the footpaths, as the terrain appears to be quite friendly. We can’t see anything above 560 metres in the way so, with a bit of luck, there won’t be too much up diddly up up and down diddly um down.
Another day off tomorrow and then we will be off to Luzerne.
Today is the last lazy day before we head out towards Luzern. I may have already mentioned the difficulties finding British/French to Swiss electrical plugs and today proved to be as fruitless as yesterday. We were advised to visit a particular sell everything shop as this would be where they could be found. As we strolled towards this emporium we stumbled upon the amazing Tinguely Fountain which is in constant motion and would gladden the heart of any Heath Robinson enthusiast. I have added a rather crude video to see if I can get videos to work. Unfortunately, the cement lorry blowing concrete into some new foundations rather spoiled the air of calm contemplation aroused by the fountain. If you watch the video it might be a good idea to turn the sound down.
I could have watched this thing for hours really but business called. We got to the shop and went the electrical department. Our German was up to asking for an adaptor but the device shown was a huge great thing that must have weighed half a kilo and cost an arm and a leg. With this device one could connect anything to anything, with variable voltage switches. All I wanted was a simple device, light and simple. I asked for a plug so that I could adapt our stuff to fit into Swiss tidiness, no luck. I shall have to look for a builders’ merchant tomorrow as we stroll.
The ferry, in which we crossed the Rhine, is a fascinatingly simple device. The ferry is tethered to a line, crossing from side to side over the river, by means of a sliding rope. The force of the river pressing against the rudder causing the ferry to cross using no power.
The market place was filled with flowers today.
After lunch we had the final planning meeting. We have put yellow marker spots on the map where we need to change paths, so that should do it. We shall see if this scale and type of map is any good tomorrow.
Today we bought our Swiss Half Price Passes which will entitle us to half price fares on all Swiss trains, funicular railways, cable cars and the Glacier Express. A couple of years ago we saw a programme on TV about a bloke who had strolled more or less where we are going and he went for a trip on the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St Moritz. Having looked up the prices for this thing our Half Price Passes should pay for themselves with one trip.
Actually, on reflection, something did happen today, we were introduced to the traditional Swiss rösti. If you haven’t had one of these deliciously filling blighters then you really should try and find one. I think that is enough excitement for one day.
The day started quite badly from my point of view. I have never enjoyed buying clothes and get a headache when I have to be involved in this pursuit. This need for new clothing could have been avoided if the huge heavy boots I bought in Reims had not become a burden and needed to be sent on to a period of relaxation in Italy and, if I had not been reduced to one tee shirt due my own stupidity. The process of choosing the clothes was simplified for me quite a lot as there were only about 9 pairs of shoes in my size in the large department store in Luzern, all of which were displayed by the XXL notice. Janet drew my attention to some tee shirts, all reduced in price to 10 Swiss Francs. The only one of these which fitted me was orange so I bought it. Having to make all of these tricky decisions nearly floored me so I went to look at the bicycle display to calm me down.
After this very poor start to the day we set off to the railway station at Luzern to get the train to Alpnachstad to get a cog wheel railway ride.
The original cog wheel trains up Mount Pilatus were powered by steam which must have been exciting for the bloke chucking the coal on the fire as the engine was going up.
The track is built on a narrow wall which clings quite nicely to the side of the mountain giving terrific panoramic views of the rapidly shrinking lake and town as the train ascends.
Having arrived at the top of the mountain we wandered about a bit doing this and that in a touristlike manner, climbing up things and strolling down a tunnel.
The little paths to the various peaks at the top of the mountain were filled with little children running up and down apparently olivious to the massive drops below. It was quite refreshing to see parents giving their children a bit of space in which to have an adventure.
When we were wandering about in the tunnels we encountered an Australian family and passed the time of day etc. They are on a tour of Europe and had been in Sicily and had found it too hot. So, if they had found it too hot I think that it is a place to avoid for me, at least in summer.
After all the excitement of the train ride and the mountain we were happy to sit in the shade at the bottom of the train ride.
There was a trio playing traditional Swiss music on a species of three row melodion under the shade of an umbrella at the station. I had a chat to them but they didn’t give me a go, so I am still dealing with my accordion withdrawal problem.
The boat ride back to Buochs really meant the end of the Luzern bit, which has been even better than we expected.
Tomorrow we stroll onwards again, to Fluelen about 20 miles. We have two possible routes, one of these possibilities has an ascent of 500 mtrs in less than 1Km. We may choose the other route.
After the super strolls of the last three days we felt that we needed a day in which to laze about and also to do some of the less interesting tasks which a stroller’s life makes necessary. Both Janet and I visited Lugano when we were very young and have intended to visit, in order to walk down memory lane, but have somehow never managed it. I was a little put off Lugano when I read that mega rich Italians had sought financial refuge here and that it was a bit like Monaco now.
We travelled by train this morning and were particularly looking forward to the spirals that the train must do in the tunnels in order to lose height. We weren’t disappointed as we were able to see the same view twice as the train popped out of a tunnel mouth much lower down.
On arrival in Lugano our first need was a laundrette and, as Janet had spotted one on Google, we headed straight for it with great eagerness. We toiled up the hill in the heat and eventually found it. Curses and despair when we realised that the blighter was closed. The next move was to find the tourist office in order to find another laundrette. The assistant told us that there were no laundrettes in Lugano only dry cleaning places. If Lugano is like Monaco then I suppose we should have expected this and brought our household staff along as well.
We have really noticed the heat here after the relative coolness of the high mountains which have been our home lately. We are looking forward to returning to the mountains tomorrow to continue strolling to Italy. In the meantime we have found a beer cooler in the bathroom so we can refresh ourselves.
Returning to an earlier theme of the jolly Swiss character I spotted eggs with the Swiss flag emblazoned on them in a supermarket.
We have done nothing of interest today just dozed, eaten ice cream, been for a ride on the funicular railway and hand washed our small clothes. We are now ready for tomorrow and more super strolling.
We are very close to the Italian border and are eager to press on and actually cross into Italy. In front of us are two days of climbing and descending in order to reach Chiasso and then Como.
Two friends from the UK, Lee and Andy, have been spending a few weeks in Italy and were passing through Lugano today. It was really great to see them, have a spot of lunch, a chat and also to be handed my incredibly comfortable ‘Hotter’ sandals which had been resting in Italy. I am wearing these sandals now and have managed to overcome my British reserve and discard the socks even in public.
Over the last week or two we have started to accept that we don’t really need warm winter woollies and heavy underwear. Andy and Lee offered to return these British items to the UK for us and our packs feel considerably lighter.
Rather than drone on about our touristic activities I have attempted to include a few photos of Lugano. If this doesn’t work please let me know, it might be slow loading or it might just explode.
Having arrived in Italy we needed to know how we should tackle the next few strolls which would get us to the end. We had no maps and no inkling of footpaths and of way marking.
We started the day with a long lie in and only got up at 8:30 in order to get breakfast before it was cleared away. Como looked very special in the morning sun as we strolled around taking in the touristy bits.
Then it was down to work, find maps and work out how we were going to overcome the mountains in between Como and Bagolino. The tourist information office pointed us towards the map shops and also to the pharmacy for foot care products. We ate a spartan lunch and had a crack at working out a route. In the end there are two possibilities, go long and high or go low and not so far. At the moment long and high is winning as it means that the views will be better, the air will be loads cooler and we shall be away from traffic. The downside of this solution is that the will take longer and need greater navigation skills.
We had decided to have a day of rest today but after a long afternoon sleep we thought that an evening stroll would be just the job. It would also test out our map and the waymarkings we should be using over the next weeks. A short stroll up to Brunate could be enjoyed followed by a trip back down on the funicular railway then dinner. With some assistance from locals we found the path up to Brunate. It was a stiff climb but not very different from others which we have done lately. At the top we found the funicular railway station and discovered that the ticket office was shut. We were a little nonplussed by this revelation at first. A helpful notice told us where tickets could be purchased out of hours. One of the bars was shut so we strolled to another, not mentioned on the list, in order to get directions. The bloke behind the bar was not helpful in any way but we did spot a policeman who pointed us in the right direction.
We enjoyed a pleasant trip down and had a chat about this and that with the other passengers. More or less a success on all counts if you ignore that fact that the delayed ticket down purchase made us too late for supper. Janet wasn’t hungry anyway and I have some beer in the fridge so we are both happy.
Tomorrow we head towards Erba, an altogether sterner test.
In order to complete the last leg of this epic journey we set off this morning to find maps. We found a book shop but no map which we needed. We found a sports shop and had the same story. Another book shop turned up but ts was closed until September. The oddity here is that the map we wanted has Lecco at its centre. It almost seemed as though the map sellers couldn’t understand why anyone would want a hike/bike map of this area. We know that the map exists as it is advertised on the map maker’s web site. We can stroll tomorrow but may need to go to Bergamo in order to get the pieces which we will need to continue.
If the map purchasing failure is removed from the day it has been very nice as we have been able to laze about and get over the all night small motorcycle chorus as the traffic lights changed to green outside our bedroom window, open to let in some night air.
Over the last couple of days we have seen loads and loads of small reptiles darting about on rocks, paths and rustling in the underbrush.
As we were strolling about on the higher hills we also spotted what looked like beetles with very long legs. They sat quietly on the rocks and, if disturbed, gave a mighty bound into the undergrowth,
These high hills are full of butterflies of all sizes and colours, we are particularly taken by the small dark velvety ones which are everywhere in abundance. Janet seems to has attracted the attention of minute biting things which are also everywhere in abundance,, they are not visible but leave itches behind them.
As it is Ferragosto we decided to have a day or two off ourselves. We still need one vital map in order to complete the picture of strolls so came to Bergamo to find it. We shall not be strolling through Bergamo so it is a real break from the daily round.
We got onto the bus and settled in. An elderly passenger got on and asked the driver if the bus was going to Bergamo, this passenger asked the driver the same question many times throughout our journey.
Being a foreigner is really useful sometimes. When this person brought out two crumpled pieces of paper with poems written on them and asked me to read them, I read them, then, when he asked me to buy them, being foreign, I could look puzzled and shrug.
Bergamo is as beautiful as I remember it to be. The old high town was full of people this evening, sitting around and chatting, eating ice cream and waiting for a puppet show.
There is to be a folk festival next week in Bergamo so if we are in bus distance we might pop along and have a listen.
Tomorrow, when we have the elusive map in our grubby fingers, we can work out a route which will include some sort of accommodation. We have a number of 2000 m passes to cross in order to finish the stroll so won’t be able to do many horizontal miles each day. We have some really good stuff to which we can look forward before crossing the finishing line.
Last night I managed to overcome Spotify’s reluctance to permit Italian access to its contents. This small victory has given me lot of pleasure, both from a nerdy delight in foiling a silly rule but, more importantly I can listen to some music once again. Should anyone wish to know how it is done, let me know
The day started with some minor excitement as our fellow guests, from Brazil, managed to snap off the key to their bedroom in the lock from the outside. The trusty Swiss Army knife had the very tool to remove the lock cover and prod out the broken piece. Our bedroom key didn’t fit the other lock but the empty bedroom key was just the job and we were able to carry on eating our modest breakfast and our fellows could get their belongings for the day out of their bedroom.
After recovering from all the excitement we set off to find the elusive last map. Our first attempt was a total failure as the bookshop was empty of stock and the building available for rent. The second shop was closed and not set to reopen until next week. We were beginning to believe that success would elude us when we noticed a third bookshop with open and welcoming doors. We climbed up the stairway to the map department with dragging steps, anticipating the worst and looking forward to a day devoted to map searches. Expressions of astonishment and relief were written on every part of our bodies capable of expressing these emotions as we spotted the very map at the front of the display. We now have the means to find a way towards Ponte Caffaro. Having a full set of maps does not guarantee success, but improves the chances considerably away from zero.
We have enjoyed having a large kitchen in which to cook, sit and plan today. We quite enjoyed washing up and cooking lunch as we haven’t done these mundane acts for ages it seems. Neither of us has had any desire to go out and engage in touristical activities this afternoon and we have slept the sleep of the just instead. Then it was down to business once again.
With the maps spread out before us the expected difficulties became more obvious. The mountains and trails run, more or less, north to south and we are moving west to east. All of the ‘easier’ routes would take us along very busy, bendy roads with no pavements.At least one of the obvious routes, which are away from all traffic, appears to involve ladders. Janet isn’t too keen on using ladders so we shall probably try to avoid them, if possible. The final obstacle which needs to be overcome is to find a route which has a good start and end place. We have found routes which look OK but these are edging towards being too long for one day’s stroll in this terrain, as strolling here in twilight would need to be slow in order to avoid falling.
Having eaten and watered ourselves heartily, we are ready for tomorrow and the next stroll.
We are finding it quite hard to believe that we are less than 50 Km from the end of this epic stroll. The map tells us that our route will be much shorter than that taken by cars. Looking at the contour lines on our map and the altitude numbers we can see why this might be.
After having listened to another free musical concert this evening we strolled out onto the lake promenade where we could see some people, dressed in yellow tee shirts, putting some rescue dogs through their paces at the water’s edge. The dogs were retrievers and were obviously enjoying fetching balls and plastic tubes which had been thrown into the lake. The game moved up a notch when one of the yellow tee shirted people jumped into the lake and flapped about in a helpless manner. This was looking very dramatic until the dog jumped into the lake as requested but noticed that its ball was still in the water. It did what we both expected that it would do, it fetched its ball and looked for a pat on the head. The chap in the water was obliged to swim ashore with a sheepish grin.
We have offloaded some of our stuff onto the postman today, so our packs will be about 5 Kgs lighter in total. We have sent on the electric kettle and Janet’s hot water bottle so it will be bed socks for Janet and no tea or coffee in bed for either of us for the last few days.
Tonight we are sitting in a bar trying to get the contact details of the rifugi for the last leg of the stroll. As I mentioned earlier, the ascents rise to over 2000 metres a few times so we need to break the thing into three or four sections.At the moment we have struck a blank but this has happened before so we shall persist until something turns up.
We started the day by eating a leisurely breakfast outside and were treated to a march past by an air force band and various local groups with standards.
Today is, probably and very hard to believe, the last day of rest before the end of the stroll from Gravels Bank to Ponte Caffaro. Although, finding a place of rest for tomorrow night has become a greater challenge than we had thought it might be. Janet had discovered a possible resting place for tomorrow night and we were expecting an email response from the proprietor. Until we had received the reply we were going to be in limbo and in some difficulty. We did have an alternative place to stay but it was in the ‘wrong’ place and could mean lots of extra strolling and climbing. I strolled out to the tourist office after breakfast for some advice about mountain huts and refuges between Lovere and Bagolino, in case we didn’t get a reply, and was presented with a map full of these elusive blighters. One cursory glance at the map was all that we needed to tell us that, where we are going, there is only white space.
When the reply arrived from Janet’s email, telling us that there were beds, we were delighted, we can stroll tomorrow and sleep in comfort tomorrow night. We hope that the people with whom we shall stay tomorrow can suggest the following night’s refuge or perhaps a starry sky could be our bedroom ceiling.
Having settled our place of rest we could enjoy the promised air show and the rest the day.
The doggy rescues of yesterday were repeated, with helicopters dropping people into the lake to be rescued. I’m still not sure that the dogs are ready to operate independently though.
The doggy rescues were followed bya fabulous display of low level aerobatics which took my breath away. The whole thing was finished with a concert by the band of the Italian Airforce (Milan). I really must learn the words of the Italian National Anthem.