This week I dive into the least populous part of France. I learn that three facilities used exist in every French village of the nineteenth century, and that not all villages dance on the streets during the fête de la Musique .
Day 78 – Saint Mihiel
I treat myself to a second night in the fabulously cheap room. Who knows when I will get such an opportunity again?
The manager gives me a free coffee, as I sit with my tablet in front of the reception search of the WiFi signal. She also offers to make me a full blown breakfast tomorrow morning for 5 €. I agree.
The day I spend relaxing – a little write, upload photos and videos, take a nap. I do not even go into the city. I just don’t have those 2 or 3 km in me today.
For dinner, I borrow a kettle from the older lady who rents a room on the campsite for a few weeks every year, and cook [sic!] three sachets of cup o’ soup, enrich it with extra salami. The usual baguette rounds off my meal.
Day 79 – to Chardogne
Time to move on. I will probably not make the 40+ kilometers to Val d’Ornain today to complete the ¨m¨ and officially dive into the ¨o¨. But I will try to get as close as possible.
The path leads along the main road D901, which gives me the opportunity to replenish my supplies at the Intermarché. More paté, and sweetened condensed milk for the extra energy boost.
After three hours, the route continues on smaller roads.
It’s hot, and just before four I ask a couple whether they would refill my bottle.
The two are about to treat themselves to a little break in the garden with Orangina, biscuits and cigarillo and invite me to join.
Greedily I empty my soda and eat a few biscuits more than my host.
Half an hour later I head back on the road. The remaining biscuits in my backpack.
One hour later it’s time to look for shelter for the night.
In Chardogne I ring at the first house. But only the dog on a chain in front of the garage answers.
A few doors down a woman tells me: ¨You’ll have to go to the mayor. For security reasons.¨
She explains how to get to the mayor’s home. But a hundred meters further I have no idea where to go. Of course, she did not tell me his name or address.
I approach an older couple that has just parked their car in front of their house. Without hesitation the husband says: ¨Get into the car. I take you there. I could explain the oute. But it is easier if I just drive you. ¨
I climb into the car and three minutes later, in front of the mayor’s house out of it.
The old man hands me over to the wife. Who at first has no idea of what exactly to do with me.
She sits me on the bench by the front door and offers me a Coke. I gratefully accept it.
She calls her husband to ask when he’d be home. While we wait and I drink, she interrogates me thouroughlly.
I seem to give the right answers. Because after ten minutes she offers me a shower. I gratefully accept it.
When I come back down, nicely refreshed from my shower, the mayor has arrived. He interrogates me throuroughly.
But I seem to give the right answers, because the two of them now discuss where I could set myself up for the night. The tent in the garden does not seem to be an option. The couple must leave early for work tomorrow morning. Instead, the village assembley room gets shortlisted. I do not really care. I’m happy as long as I do not get kicked out onto the street.
The Mayor asks me to get into a car, so he can show me the room.
I like it: there are even rather new toilets and mats on which I could sleep.
Before we go back to the house, I get a tour of the mayor’s office and learn that since Napoleon’s time three things are part of every French village: mairie (Mayor’s Office), ecole (school) and lavoir (wash house). The lavoir in Chardogne, which we also visit, is fed from its own source, is very well preserved and even consists of two basins, so that the laundry could be rinsed in fresh water.
The mayor’s wife has meanwhile prepared a simple dinner: salad, cold cuts and potato casserole, topped off with this season’s last fresh strawberries from the garden.
After dinner, the mayor turns on the TV. I can’t believe what I see: 75 minutes played and Germany leads in their first World Cup match 3-0 against Portugal. Ronaldo looks sad. Then even the 4-0 is scored.
At the end of the game I’m ready to go to the assembley room. But the mayor can’t, won’t do that to me. Instead, he convinces his wife that I’m better off in the son’s room (the son has long moved out). So I get one more night in a cozy bed.
Day 80 – to Camping Lac de Der
At six clock the night is already over. At a quarter to seven, my host has to get on his way to work. He manages a branch of mobile network provider Orange in the nearby city of Bar-le-Duc. The mayor’s office is only ¨a hobby¨.
When I go downstairs, he is sitting in his office, reading the newspaper. He serves me a large coffee and brioche with home made jam.
At some point inbetween the wife leaves for work.
We set out on time. The mayor to work in his small car. I with my backpack and trolley to Val d’Ornain.
Less than three hours later, later, the ¨m¨ is completed. But in Val d’Ornain I also celebrate another important milestone: from now on, I count down. 2,000 of estimated 4,000 kilometers have been completed. I dance a little happy dance and move on in the direction of Chaource.
It’s a hot day and the route along the D635 offers little shade. In Saint Dizier I therefore hope for an early camp for the night. Maybe even with a lake or swimming pool. But the lady in the tourist information office can offer me only the campsite by the banks of Lac de Der. Which is 12 kilometers away. Three hours. She tries to encourage me: ¨You simply follow the channel. This is a nice route.¨
I decide that in order to shorten the journey by two kilometers it is worth to me to sacrifice the nice view and continue a bit longer along the main road.
The campsite by the Lac is also nice. There is a small restaurant at the entrance, with a large telly to watch the World Cup games. Throughout the premises, guests can take advantage of free WiFi.
Only electricity at first is an issue. For me. Of course, I don’t have the adapter to access the power next to my tent. But the sockets in the sanitary tract do also not work. Luckily a German couple on the neighboring plot comes to my rescue and offers to charge my tablet overnight.
Day 81 – to Radonvilliers
Despite the hot days the nights are still very cold. My sleeping bag is very light. I wear two or three pairs of socks. But I still wake up at about two with icy cold feet. Then I turn from one side to the other for a few hours in my narrow cot and fall asleep again at half past six.
At seven-thirty the alarm clock rings.
I clear out the tent to dry it from all sides before I get back on the road.
At breakfast – non-toasted toast with apricot jam – I look at the map, where I could finish today. The next campsite, which is even on my route, is 45 km away at the Forêt d’Orient. I’ll never make there in one day. Certainly not with the heat of the last couple of days. On the other hand the route pretty much continues to follow the main road. So it could be difficult to find other shelter.
By ten I leave the campground. Again, shade is hard to come by today.
Sometime during the day I make up my mind to reach the campsite in Radonvilliers today.
In Montier-en-Der, a sleepy little town, I ask in a bar to have my bottle refilled, then look for the tourist office to ask for a bus in the direction of Radonvilliers. I explain my request. The ladies are very surprised and google for the bus. No, the only bus from Montier leaves tomorrow morning at six-thirty. But I could continue to Ephotonay today and from there at about quarter to seven tonight take the bus to Brienne-le-Château, from where I could walk to Radonvilliers.
To sum it up: the bus would save me about eight of the remaining more than 20 kilometers to the campsite. That does not sound very satisfactory.
So I walk on.
The ray of hope on the horizon appears in the form of a mobile home with a German license plate in a parking lot at just before five.
Cautiously I approach and ask: ¨You don’t happen to be going to Radonvilliers?¨
The couple does not know where that is. They are headed for the Loire. However, that takes them in my direction and they promise to drop me off in Radonvilliers.
Twenty mintes later and half a bag of chocolate biscuits in my hands I am standing by the reception of the campground on the edge of the Forêt d’Orient.
Day 82 – Radonvilliers
At 9:15 the boulangerie car honks to alert prospective customers. I buy a baguette and a pain au chocolat. Then I head to the reception to let them know that I’m going to stay another night. At the picnic table next to the boule court, I write in my diary until the tablet battery is drained. First I want to charge it in the sanitary tract. But there are some construction workers staying at the campsit, who constantly try to chat me up n the non-charming way. So I ask the manager if she can keep the tablet at the reception.
In the late afternoon I see a young man with a big backpack and a dog standing by the small bar next to the reception chatting with the owner. I watch him, as he walks past my tent to set his up a few plots dow.
I wait ten minutes. Then walk over to him.
Finally, another long-time hiker!
Rafael comes from Belgium. Together with dog Nitzsche he is walking part of the Way of St. James to the Pyrenees. My bad French and Rafael’s bad English make the conversation difficult at times, but we chat about everything that probably no one else understands: what it’s like to walk alone, how to get water or a shower, how to protect he feet against blisters, how to navigate, why we do all of this …
Rafael explains that he has no money problems, but feels that sleeping in a tent is part of the journey. I’m still a little embarrassed when he invites me to dinner. We have cheeseburgers and fries, with white sangria and when it gets cold there at the bar, a tea.
Day 83 – to Chauffour-Lés-Bailly
Rafael decides to spend two nights in Radonvilliers, just like I had done before. So we go our separate ways in the morning.
After a few minutes I step into the Forêt d’Orient. For hours, I have only dense forest and the chirping of birds around me. I take my time and role along comfortably on route forestières. I walk briefly on a road and traverse a pretty little village before the path leads me back into the forest.
In the forest the heat is tolerable.
At about five I stop by the lavoir in Chauffour-Lés-Bailly. A glance at the map tells me that I have to find shelter here, as the path will continue mainly through forest for another 8 km.
I look around the place and initially find no houses that I like. Construction workers doing road works throughout the village keep chatting at me from the side.
In a side street at the end of the village I discover a farmhouse with a flowery garden. But no one answers when I knock at the door.
I decide to return to the village center, past the construction workers.
I find three villagers standing on the road, talking about the construction work. Carefully, I ask them where I – with my tent! – could possibly stay tonight. One of them finally says: ¨I suppose, my place.¨
We climb through a hole in a fence onto a large driveway. To the right a hill. On the hill I see cherry trees.
¨You can set up your tent over there¨, says my host, pointing at the hill before he disappears in the direction of the house.
I do not dare to ask immediately for water and to use the toilet. Instead I commence to set up my tent.
Ten minutes later a woman appears by the house and calls to me: ¨If you need anything, please let me know!¨
I realize that the man had probably never thought that it was not enough to offer me a place to camp. Women think further…
I’m going down to the house and notice that it is the mayor’s office. Surprised I wonder aloud if husband or wife were in fact the mayor. They smile and deny. They have just been living in the same building for the past thirty odd years.
Marie, who is cleaning a big pile of cherries, shows me the toilet, the shower and asks what I would have for dinner. I say: ¨Bread.¨ She replys that she will prepare a small dinner for me before she goes to visit her grandchildren..
One and a half hours later I sit on the porch and enjoy tomatoes, ham, cheese, apricots and cherries with my bread.
Day 84 – to Arthonnay
Although it’s Saturday, Marie has to go to one of her many jobs. She has tasks in the mayor’s office, tends to the garden here, takes care of the historic church and the cemetery, helps out in a hospital and a school. But before we say farewell she still finds the time to ask me for the winning numbers in the lottery and hand me a packed lunch with sandwich, fruits and sweets as well as five euros. ¨If you even have to buy anything.¨ I am once again touched and give her a big hug.
The goal for today is Chaource, another fixed point on my map to walk ¨home¨, or a village shortly thereafter.
The plan changes when on a lonely road in the woods, about halfway to Chaource, a car stops. The driver is in his sixties and smiles pleasantly. From the back seat a cheerful black dog ticks his head out of the window. The driver tels me something. I am sure that it is French but all I manage to understand is sang, which means blood.
I shrug my shoulders, smile and shake my head.
He tries again.
Nope, no idea what he is saying.
He waves his hand, that I should step closer to the car.
I do as told. With my backpack and trolley he would not be able to pull me into the car.
He touches me below the shoulder and nods.
I’m at a loss.
He asks where I want to go. At least I interpret that from his finger pointing down the road and the word òu, which I understand.
I say: ¨I am going to Chaource.¨
He reapets: ¨Ah, Cha’.¨ and offers to drive me a few kilometers in the direction.
Twenty minutes later I’m in central Chaource. I didn’t expect that.
It’s lunchtime and I look for a little shade, to see what’s next.
Next I turn towards Dijon, first for hours along the D34, nothing but endless fields the right and left. Oilseed rape, wheat, soybeans, rye. When will the rapeseed finally be harvested? It has now accompanied me for twelve weeks. Initially in green and delicate yellow. Then, in full yellow splendor. Now more and more brown.
In Arthonnay I see that I will soon plunge again in a several kilometers of forest. With the burning heat that actually quite alright with me. But not at five in the afternoon.
I ask at a large estate at the end of the village, if I can set up my tent in the garden. The young woman does not know where she would have the space, instead suggests that I go a bit further.
And really, a few minutes later I find an estate that is not surrounded by high walls. The Old Mill (although I cannot find the river, which should have driven the mill).
A couple gets out of their car and asks if they could help me. I say that I am looking for shelter for the night. They respond, that they were just visitors, and could not decide that.
But the owners are found quickly and show me a shady spot, where I can set up my tent.
It is Fête de la musique and I hope that there is a concert in the village that I could visit tonight. My hosts destroy these hopes. The next concert, of which they know, is in Chaource.
At around eight, they let me know that they would go away for an hour, but that I was, of course, invited to dinner. They offer to take me along. But I decline. So I am left with my hosts’ massive dog, Bobbie.
Two hours later there is still no sign of them. I’m hungry and out of precaution eat a little of my bread. Bobbie is restless.
At half-past eleven we are still just among us. I picture that they might have had an accident and wonder if I should call the police. It has become quite cold.
At eleven I decide to go to bed. There, at least, it’s warmer.
Ten minutes later, a car pull up in the yard. My hosts and their guests get off. Clearly a bit tipsy. ¨We were in Laignes. They held a concert for the Fête de la musique. So we had some fries and champagne.¨