I had expected that by now the harsh July heat would make walking difficult. Instead, I go through rain shower after rain shower, rainy day after rainy day. At least I am lucky and several times wonderful families welcome me into their homes.
Day 99 – to Goviller
The day starts off horribly wrong. When I open my tent in the morning and want to take something from the backpack, which for the first time I had left outside, a big grayish-brown spider stares at me. The kind that when I was a child had ruined my parents’ vacation home to me because it loves to hide indoors. Once I even saw one crawling out off my sleeping bag …
So I carefully climb out off the tent, past the backpack, jerk the bag from the awning and fling it from me.
The spider is gone.
After the now usual breakfast, which consists of half a baguette with honey (no butter), I’m on my way towards Val d’Ornain. Still about 100 km. Four days.
It’s hot. Have I escaped the rain?
I look for the next campsite on my phone and check if I can find a short cut by train. Google Maps offers a campsite at Chaligny. That’s a bit off my route. But at least a safe option for the night. On the SNCF website I read that there is a train from Vézelise to Pont-Saint-Vincent in the afternoon. Vézelise is almost on my route.
The train station in Vézelise is located at the edge of town. When I get there, it is deserted. I sit down on the platform, in the shade. After a few minutes I get restless. I discover the schedule on the bulletin board.
Turns out the train does not depart this afternoon.
Today no train will depart.
Because France is now on summer holidays.
A little disappointed I pull myself up and shuffle on. Hopefully, the people are generous in this region.
In Goviller I’m finally too tired to move on. I look around and I see a sign for a gîte with the name “Mont d’Anon”. The named mountain I cannot discover. But I am curious and hope that the owners have a garden.
Even after several rings no one replies. I have almost given up, when down the house a window opens. If I was the one who has reserved the chambre d’hôte for tonight.
I deny and continue that I was on a pilgrimage, looking for shelter for the night, could not pay for a room, but would like to stay in the garden in my tent.
The woman and her husband move to open the door for me. However, there was not enough space in the garden to set up the tent.
I want to sigh just as ….
… but I could stay on a mattress in the conference room. In addition, the weather forecast had mentioned a storm and heavy rains, anyways.
The sky is baby blue, not a cloud in sight. But I still gladly accept the offer to stay in the conference room.
I shower. Evelyne asks if I had any laundry. I quickly change into my turquoise dress and give her almost all my clothe. Over a juice on the terrace Michel tells me of the animals that have adopted the couple: the dog, the cat, the parrot and the donkeys.
The donkeys? I love Donkeys!
Armed with a couple of carrots we stroll over to the pasture. On the way Michel points out Mont Anon to me: a larger hill behind the village.
Each of the donkeys gets a carrot. The two ponies that share the pasture with the donkeys have to share one.
Suddenly things change very quickly. The baby blue sky has disappear behind thick, almost black clouds. With them arrives a strong wind.
We only just make it back into the house before the forecast storm breaks loose.
Am I glad not to be in a tent…
To pass the time until dinner, I make use of the opportunity to swim. Unfortunately, announced by big signs, bathing is prohibited in most French ponds, lakes and rivers. And then there is of course the bad weather. But Michel not only has lovingly restored his wife’s childhood home, turned the old barn into a gîte and a garden shed into a chambre d’hôte , he has also had an indoor pool installed in the garden.
So I swim and float for a while in the pelting rain.
Dinner is served as table d’hôte , shared with the couple Evelyne had expected for the guest room. Nelle and Hank are Dutch, but have been living in Geneva for decades. The hostess “quickly” conjures up a “simple dinner”: salad from the garden, Quiche Lorraine, served with fresh bread, local cheese and sweet fruits. Michel serves a choice of wine or beer. I drink beer, try to follow the conversation in French as well as I can and eat, as is almost always these days, more than the others.
Tired, but happy I retreat to my mattress.
Day 100 – to Chalaines
For breakfast I have a cereal bowl of milk coffee and sweet pastries with homemade jams. I learn that the perfect jam takes at least 24 hours to make because the juice is boiled briefly several times, allowed to cool and only before the last boil the fruits are added.
Evelyne packs a few of the pastries and fruits for my lunch, and even gives me the last small jar of a kind of nougat jam with honey and nuts. She took the recipe from a French chef, world-famous for her jams, whose name has unfortunately already escaped me.
I have my lunch shortly before two at an abandoned go-kart track. Along the fields, this is one of the few places where I find shade.
In the afternoon, the heat no longer poses a problem. Once more thick gray clouds fill the sky and it rains.
Around five I arrive at the Meuse (Maas) river. On the other side Vaucouleurs with the Porte de la France are awaiting me. I decide to delay crossing the bridge and seek shelter in the village of Chalaines.
A little up the road past the intersection that to the right heads up to the bridge over the Meuse, I discover a castle. At the gate a sign requests Activez la cloche noire . I find the bell and ring vigorously. Once. Twice. 3 times.
I do see cars in the yard. Some of the windows of the buildings belonging to the castle are open. But no one responds to my ringing.
I turn back towards the crossroads. At a bright yellow house at the corner I see a sign Vacances à la ferme . After having been received so wonderfully in the gîte of Michel and Evelyne the previous evening, I decide to try my luck here.
Pascale and her son open promptly. They have heard me ringing the castle bell. Without giving it much of a thought, Pascale presents me the options: I could certainly pitch my tent in the garden which was nice and quiet. But with the rain that might not be very pleasant. As an alternative she shows me a bed in a small room, which opens to the garden on one side, to the living room on another and to the hallway on a third. Although it could get a bit noisy because of the many children in the house, it would also be warm and dry. I light-heartedly opt for the bed.
Pascale explains that she and her husband soon want to renovate the house next door to open a hostel for pilgrims. But they simply haven’t found the time, yet. The family owns a few dozen cows, ponies, rabbits and poultry as well as in summer takes in up to five girls or boys as holiday guests. The children stay for two or three weeks while the parents work or go on holidays by themselves. ‘It’s easier without the parents’, says my hostess with a wink.
I stay alone in the room to rest a little while Pascale and the children disappear into the kitchen to prepare dinner.
Outside the drizzle continues.
For dinner, the whole gang sits around a large table in the kitchen/living space: Pascale, her husband Christophe, their three children, four pre-teen girls and I. There is salad and pasta with tomato sauce and lots of cheese. Perfect for children. And the walking class. When I report that today is day 100 of my trip, Christophe brings a bottle of wine from the cellar. After the cheese the celebration is topped with a yogurt for everyone.
The kids want to watch a movie. After a few minutes I realize that I am too tired for it, and bid them good night.
Day 101 – to Bar-Le-Duc
The morning offers the same bleak picture outside the window as the night before: It’s raining.
Pascale has bought madeleines de Commercy at the bakery for breakfast so I could get a taste of the local cuisine. I have them with the usual cereal bowl of coffee with fresh milk. An advantage of owning a dairy farm.
With a heavy heart I finally head out into the rain, in the direction of Bar-Le-Duc.
After half an hour along the main road a driver honks their horn next to me. Pascale and a couple of the children. She has to go to Commercy to pick up the high school diploma of the elder son, and offers to take me to Void-Vacon. Gladly I jump in.
In Void-Vacon I turn to the left to follow on small roads the N4 a few hours until I reach the D12.
It’s raining without pause. Sometimes stronger. Sometimes weaker.
In a small village on the edge of the N4 I stop for lunch at a bus stop. Two cyclists slowly pass in the opposite direction. I hear them discuss in German. But even slow they are still too fast for me to address them.
On my next break about 5 km on, the two pass again.
¨Lost?¨ I ask.
Puzzled, they stop. ¨German?¨
In stark contrast to most cyclists I meet the two are badly equipped: they wear ordinary clothes with a simple rain poncho. One has a cheap laptop bag dangling on his handle bar. The other one a plaid strapped to his rack, without a bag or foil to protect it from the rain. Neither of them seems to have a map or a navigation device.
They tell me that they were on their way to Santiago de Compostella. But the truck driver that was to take them from Metz further South had let them down. They kind of had the route in their head, but knew at the moment not quite where to meet the Way. In between they wanted to take the train for 300 km or so.
I keep my thoughts to myself and tell them that I last saw the Camino today in Chalaines near Vaucouleurs.
But they prefer to go in the other direction to Ligny-en-Barrois.
I wish them luck.
My path now continues on very small roads. There, I do not meet many people. Only a large group cyclists, at least twenty. They all ride directly past me and I wish each of them Bonjour! . I see them a second time on the other side of a valley and wave.
In Tronville I find a train station. Out of curiosity I check to see which trains pass through here.
One is going to Bar-Le-Duc in the late afternoon.
In the World Cup semifinal Germany will meet host Brazil tonight. That would be something, if I could watch the game. Although I have not much hope of the Mannschaft – as everyone here calls the German team – to make it to the final.
But if I am very very lucky it will not be raining as much in Bar-Le-Duc.
I am not.
On the local campsite, which is actually located very nicely in the garden of a castle-like building, I set up my tent next to two others. One belongs to an English couple who is traveling by motorcycle. I hear them in their tent which is large enough to sit comfortably on the floor. The other tent is owned by a Dutch couple. I see them through the windows sitting on camping chairs, reading and drinking tea.
I take my dinner at the picnic table, the roof is not large enough to protect me completely from the rain.
The lady at the reception is not quite sure there is any public viewing of the match in close vicinity of the campsite. She recommends that I go to the old town. But I’m too frustrated to walk for miles through the city, in the middle of the nigh. And we will not win anyway.
Day 102 – to Montier-en-Der
Another morning waking to the familiar sound: It’s raining on my tent. I have no desire to get up, pack up the wet tent and to march – again – through the rain all day. I decide to simply stay another day and night at the campground in Bar-Le-Duc. Maybe things have changed tomorrow.
Like every morning, in the past few weeks, I check Twitter to get the results of last night’s matches.
First, I think it is a joke. But then I feel strangely motivated: Germany, has not only beaten Brazil, but with a 7: 1 victory pretty much destroyed the selecao. 7:1. I can hardly believe it. But if the Mannschaft makes the impossible possible, then what is another day in the rain for me?
Full of energy I get out of my tent. When I get out of the shower, the rain has even stopped. I get it to dry a little while I have breakfast at the picnic table and am on my way to complete the ¨o¨ in Val-d’Ornain.
It does not rain for the next two hours. You could even say that the sun is shining. Shortly after Bar-Le-Duc the large group of cyclists I had already met twice yesterday afternoon zooms past me.
We greet each other with a laugh and I am in high spirits, as I reach around noon, for a second time, the school in Val-d’Ornain. I proudly post a photo of my map on Facebook. On it bold pink letters announce I have walked ¨ome¨.
Two minutes later, the fun is over: With a few strong gusts of wind, the rain comes back.
And gets stronger and stronger.
Within a short time I am completely drenched.
In Baudonvilliers I step again on the D635, the first of the busy roads that will take me to the Forêt d’Orient. In the spray of the trucks, the rain is even less fun.
A bus stop promises a little dryness. The summer vacations are in full swing and I now no longer expect that there are any busses running in the countryside. I still shuffle over to the timetable to relax my feet.
Surprisingly, there is a bus going from here to Saint-Dizier. In an hour.
I look at my phone, to find out whether there is also a bus from Saint-Dizier to Radonvilliers, to the campsite where I had met the pilgrim Rafael with his dog Nitzsche a few weeks ago. Maybe I can escape the rain once more.
But there is no bus to the Forêt d’Orient today. Only to Montier-en-Der.
Montier-en-Der does not have a campsite. But I really have stopped caring. I’m cold and I want dryness. If need be, I’ll pay for a hotel.
A few hours later I reach Montier-en-Der. In the bus, which does not even stop once on the way, I am the only passenger. At seven the driver drops me off almost directly in front of the city’s hotels. A quick internet search has revealed that the Le Dervois is the cheapest of them.
I enter. The reception is also a bar / café, as they are quite common in French cities: In the morning locals meet here for an espresso, in the afternoon and evening for a beer or two to exchange the latest gossip.
The bartender shows me a room on the first floor which exudes a wonderfully used charm. The furniture is not broken or dirty. It is just old and mixed. However, 39 € per night is too much for me. I carefully ask for a cheaper option.
Because I can do without en suite, I end up paying only 28 € for a smaller room down the hall.
I like that very much.
I am even getting carried away, ordering a hot chocolate at the bar and later a dinner and breakfast for 16 €.
On vive qu’une fois.
The hotel owner serves me and the other two guests a small salad, a local potato casserole and cake for dessert. At the bar a few regulars start a chat, invite me for a beer.
Back in the room I get comfortable in the large double bed and turn on the television for the second semi-final. I fall asleep shortly afterwards.
Day 103 – Montier-en-Der
As was almost to be expected, the weather situation has not changed over night. Rain continues to fall in different intensities outside my window.
At breakfast I rent the room for another night. Only in the afternoon I make use of a brief break in the rain and buy supplies for dinner and breakfast at Aldi.
Day 104 – to Radonvilliers
Although the weather is still not at its best, the show must go on today. I am trying to be in Chaource in time for the World Cup final on Sunday. I really do not want to miss this.
On the same route as three weeks before I go to Radonvilliers. Only this time I’m not dependent on a ride and I take a few moments to visit Brienne-le-Château.
The campsite managers remember me. I pick the same spot as last time. There are now a few more people at the pool. A pilgrim, however, is not among them.
Day 105 – to Vougrey
For the first time in a while, the morning starts without rain. I’m a little too early, thought that the baker’s van comes at quarter past eight. In fact, it comes an hour later. But that way I at least almost get my tent to dry before the rain starts. I buy a pain au chocolat and a baguette and bid the campsite goodby.
For the second time I cross the Forêt d’Orient. Only this time, because of the rain I make a little detour to stay on the better forest roads instead of following the small paths.
The route forestière runs in a straight line for kilometers until I return to the car park with the picnic tables where, like the first time, I stop for my lunch break.
Shortly after La-Loge-aux-Chevres I hardly believe what I am seeing: A car stops next to me. From the driver’s seat the guy who had given me a lift to Chaource three weeks ago gives me a big smile. On the back seat his dog is still happily looking out of the window. What a coincidence!
I still barely understand anything the man says. But I am able to identify a few more words. He says that Chaource was pretty far from here. However, he could take me a few villages.
We fly along the small roads which I well remember from my first visit.
Outside Chauffour-lés-Bailly, where last time I had stayed in the garden of the mairie and of Marie’s and Denis’ house, my driver suddenly turns onto a dirt road. I think to myself that perhaps he knows a shortcut, and do not dare to protest. After a hundred meters or so, he seems to recognize his mistake and turns the car.
So I think.
Instead, he stops and turns to me.
Wouldn’t I want to show him something from me.
Indignant, I reject.
At least the bra?
My reply is resolute: ¨Monsieur!¨
Or a photo?
¨Monsieur! Non! Monsieur! ¨
Or at least touch?
He pats my arm. But I was so beautiful!
I pull my arm away. That may be so. But either way: ¨Non!¨
I consider jumping out off the car, shoot a photo of the license plate and call the police. However, a few ¨Monsieur!¨’s later he has understood the message and continues.
A few hundred meters further in Chauffour I thank him for the lift and tell him that I have to get off here, want to visit some friends. Without a murmur he follows my request. I say goodbye.
Unfortunately, I find the home of Marie and Denis closed. So I walk over to the church, which is partly made of wood, and therefore represents a unique regional style. While I explore the place, I see the guy pass and turn towards Chaource. How lucky, I have not moved on.
Finally, I feel safe and get back on the road.
An hour later I’m taking a break on the roadside and cannot believe it: There’s the guy in his car, with the black dog in the back seat again! When he stops, I make friendly small talk, but reject his offer to give me a lift with the comment that I was on a pilgrimage and hence once should walk a little.
Another half hour later I pass a cornfield. Beside it the well-known vehicle is parked. The dog I cannot see. The man’s head is sticking out of the field. I think that he has not seen me.
But I must have been mistaken.
After ten minutes later, in a wooded area, I once again walk past the parked car. At first neither dog nor man are to be seen or heard anywhere near. But then I hear the familiar chatter. To not be rude, I turn around. To see the old man standing with his pants down and his penis in his hands.
Disgusted, I turn away and utter a couple of swear words.
Two more times the car drives past me. But it does not stop.
Just to be on the safe side, I change my route one more time and stay on the D81 instead of taking the shortcut through the forest. However, even on that tarred road just one car passes me in an hour. Luckily not the guy.
Going all the way to Chaource today makes little sense to me. Instead, I look for a house which seems welcoming in the village of Vougrey. A man my age in front of a new bungalow with an immaculate lawn tells me it is not possible to camp there.
Then I see “Casteland”, Christian’s house. I walk up the steps to the big building and explain myself: pilgrimage, cannot pay for the chambre d’hôtes , which he is advertising, tent, lawn …
Good-humored Christian shows me his large garden. I would, however, have to share it with a couple of wild rabbits that ply their “mischief¨ there. Alternatively, I could, however, also stay in one of his rooms.
Inside the house I meet the driver and co-driver of the car which had passed me on the D81 by the fireplace: a Belgian couple that has also spontaneously found lodging at Christian’s. After the aperitif the two head to Chaource for dinner. I stay behind with my host, his sister and niece. The two have come down from Dijon for the weekend and spent the afternoon with Natasha dressed as a mummy posing for photos in the large garden. As might be expected from the company, the dinner with crocque monsieur , cheese from Chaource, crèpe Marnier and wine is great fun, even though my French is still quite basic.