Day 120 – to Ferrieres-sur-Sichon
Natasha, the pizza baker and campsite manager has cooked my six eggs and treats me to a free breakfast. In peace I enjoy my cereal bowl of milk with coffee and bread with cherry jam while we chat about the hopes and dreams of someone ¨our age¨.
I reach the Auvergne and the rain showers are back. Don’t get me wrong: It’s beautiful. Even along the main road the forests exude tranqulity and warmth. But it’s also almost constantly very wet.
When I reach Ferrieres, I experience the last minutes of a brocante , one version of a French flea market. Among professional traders the villagers offer paraphernalia in front of their houses, old things they have found in the attics of their centuries old houses or that simply no longer need. I invest € 3 in Haribo sweets. It takes me only minutes to finish them.
The campsite on the banks of the Sichon is run by the village itself. Probably due to the weather it is quite empty. Only five of the pitches are occupied. As so often in a camping municipal there is no reception. I set up the tent where I like. Shortly after seven a municipality employee comes by to collect the fee. € 3.42, including 42 cents tax.
I would be happy about this incredibly low price, …
Day 121 – to Vichy
… if it hadn’t rained like hell overnight. In the morning the water still continues pouring down relentlessly. For a moment I fear my tent was leaking. But fortunately it turns out to be the condensation.
I shower and hope for the best.
I do not eat breakfast, just try to dry the tent somehow under the canopy of the sanitary tract.
But it’s no use. Shortly after ten I give up and pack everything in order to at least find a boulangerie in the village for a dry breakfast.
A cold crocque monsieur is everything there is for breakfast in the small grocery store. I eat it while walking.
On the square in front of the mairie , where the main events of the flea market took place yesterday, I look for the bus schedule. There is a bus to Vichy. But the only runs Tuesdays and Fridays. So I will have to continue walking.
An hour later the rain has subsided to a drizzle and I am hot walking in my sweater with the poncho on top. In the shade of a farmhouse I take a short break to take off my sweater. Just when I want to move on, a couple approaches the house. They ask if they could help me. I thank them, decline and point to my sweater.
The woman, about forty years old, tall, a little stronger built, dyed blond hair, smiles at me with a particularly warm smile. If I wanted a cup of coffee?
Fabienne surprises me with a flawless English with a Texas accent. She has lived in the US for years. But love has brought her back to where she grew up. On Saturday she will marry that man. For Saturday not only heavy rains, but storms have been announced. The couple has just spent the morning digging their car out of a puddle next to the spot where on Saturday one hundred guests are to celebrate their wedding with them in a big tent.
Despite this we laugh over coffee and biscuits. About how life is sometimes more complicated than we would like. And the fact that at the end everything will be fine anyway. Because good weather alone will not make anyone happy.
Suddenly Fabienne sings with soft, smoky voice a Blue song she has heard this morning:
Gotta have a little bit of rain.
Gotta have a little bit of rain.
Gotta have a little bit of rain.
To appreciate the sun.
With the sun in my heart I get back on the road. Once more the universe has given me exactly what I needed.
I finally reach Vichy with wet feet at just after five. Camping is out of the question. At the tourist information I ask for cheap accommodation. But as much as the lady tries she cannot find anything cheaper than forty euros. Even the shelters are full. But given the weather that’s not really a surprise.
What to do?
I wrestle with me for a few minutes.
Then I take the hotel list to find a two star hotel nearby. The Hotel Biarritz seems made for me. If the exclusive resort is my goal, then I can probably squander a few days in the budget hotel of the same name.
To my great relief the Biarritz actually has a single room for me. On the way there I had passsed two hotels that advertised with signs in their windows that they were fully booked.
€ 48 per night. That is expensive. But when I pull my soggy, cold feet out of the shoes, I know that the money is well spent.
Day 122 – Vichy
I book the room for a second night and take a short walk to see the city. However, the rain quickly spoils the experience. Instead, I buy a few supplies, and spend the afternoon in the breakfast room.
Day 123 – to the Moulin de Fraded at Artonne
Although every cell in my body begs for it, a third night at the hotel is simply not feasible. I surely will need the money later on, if I do not want to have to go back to ¨a regular life¨ too soon.
The sun is shining when I leave the city behind me. And so I am quickly in the right walking rhythm.
Behind the village of Artonne in the late afternoon my eye catches sight of a sign: Enamel on lava. That makes me curious and makes me hope for an open-minded host.
I follow the dirt road that branches off from the main route, and find an old mill. In the garden, a display with all kinds of objects on which images in enamel are baked has been set up.
Cautiously I enter the garden.
A woman in a long skirt, with hastily assembled red hair and knitting cloth around her shoulders approaches me. That must be the artist.
Without much fuss Nicole takes me to the residential part of the mill and shows me my room. She apologizes because she still had to work, encourages me to treat myself to bread and everything in the fridge, and leaves me alone.
I drop my bags, sit down at the kitchen table and eat. Then I go back downstairs to explore the studio and the large garden. Nicole’s son, his wife and his children greet me briefly and leave for dinner in the city.
Only when Norbert, Nicole’s husband returns home, the artist also finishes her day’s work.
We enjoy a simple but hearty dinner with salad, cold cuts and garden vegetables.
Day 124 – to the Ferme La Faye
In the morning, I note with dismay that my phone has not been charged as usual overnight. The battery stands at just 56% and is rapidly losing charge when the phone is not connected to the outlet.
I cannot possibly walk on like this. Not only do I need a cell phone to stay in contact with the world I am not walking in. More importantly: I need it to navigate my walk.
But – miraculously – I am once again in the right place at the right time.
Nicole needs to deliver pictures for an exhibition in Aigueperse and invites me to come along. When we are in town, she asks if I needed anything. And when I tell her about my phone, she not only searches downtown with me for a mobile phone shop. After we find the only mobile phone store closed – the owner is on holidays – she takes me to the shopping center to Riom. And when they do not have the model I favor in stock, she continues to take me to the city center.
There I accquire a LG L4 for € 90. It’s small. It is made of plastic. It has a very bad camera. But it promises 8 hours of battery life.
Two hours later we are back at the mill. I set up the phone. Norbert conjures a quick lunch.
It’s already afternoon when I’m finally on my way.
Barely fifteen kilometers later it is time to find shelter for the night. In a ferme with about half a dozen houses I discover a couple in their forties, sitting in a large garden. Perfect for camping.
A little while later, we are sitting over a syrup at the big dining table, Beatrice remembers her parents’ spare room. A quick call and the parents agree to take me in. After dinner and with a generous packed lunch for the next day, Beatrice takes me to her parents’ farm. My room has a separate entrance and a private shower.
Day 125 – to Pérol
Beatrice had told me that I like could ring with her parents for a coffee in the morning. Naturally I follow suit. Marie heats up a cereal bowl with milk and coffee in the microwave and puts brioche and jam on the table. While I eat and drink I watch together with her husband, as she effortlessly prepares three fruit cakes, apple, apple and rhubarb.
My company for the day are the volcanoes of the Auvergne. From a distance it looks like I’m encircling them. But when I cross the highway outside the village of Pérol the volcanoes disappear from the horizon.
Pérol is my only chance at shelter for a while. Once I have left the village behind the path will take me through forests and fields for at least an hour. So it’s all or nothing.
Just past the entrance to the village I notice on a sign. It reads Abreuvoir and points to the right in the direction of a farmhouse.
At the gate another sign: ¨The dog is harmless. But the owner is crazy.¨ A sense of humor. That’s good.
I ring the bell.
The dog appears. A beige mix. He begs to be petted by me through the fence.
I ring again.
From inside the house I hear voices on the TV.
So I ring for a third time.
When I am almost ready to move on the dog owner finally appears.
The man, I estimate him to be around sixty years of age, listens intently, but right away points out that I probably would not get much sleep in the garden because of the nightclub next door.
I cannot discover the nightclub. When I ask the man explains that the club resides in the former stables of his house. That’s the Abreuvoir.
Since the man seems to honestly regret that he cannot help me, I try to get at least a hint from him as to where I could find a receptive house. He makes a call and points to a house a few hundred meters away on a hill. ¨The woman there will help you.¨
Fifteen minutes later Bea and David are already expecting me. They look the exact opposite of what I had expected. When the nightclub owner had said ¨the woman¨, I had thought of a single woman his age. Instead, standing before me is a couple my age. The two immediately show me all kinds of possible campsites in the area. Only in the garden itself, next to their house, I cannot camp. The hunting dogs …
I opt for a small fenced-in lawn with shrubs and a tap next door. At least I have access to fresh water.
Once the tent is set up, I head back to the house and ask to use the toilet. Bea lets me in and afterwards invites me onto the terasse for a drink.
I tell them about my trip and the bad luck with the weather I had this summer. Bea tells me how she met the nightclub owner. One drink is followed by another. The two daughters return from a trip to a nearby château. Bea’s sister-in-law, in whose backyard I had actually put up my tent joins us so I can introduce myself. There is pizza for dinner.
As the evening draws to an end, Bea takes pity on me. Or has an inspiration. Or both. She offers me a room on the upper floor of the house. She has decorated it lovingly for the older daughter. But the latter prefers to stay with the rest of the family on the lower level.
Day 126 – to the Ferme La Navade
Much to our surprise, it has not rained overrnight. I grab a dry tent and leave the Auvergne behind me.
I do not have to wait long for the rain. But the hour or so until it arrives I make good use of the sun, plucking prunes from the trees and even finding some ripe boisonberries.
In the evening for the first time I am not so lucky with my pick of a gîte to request shelter for the night. The guesthouse is part of a large cow farm, sitting on a hill overlooking the land. The farmer’s wife does not send me away. I even get to set up my tent right next to the house. But except for a few blueberries from the garden there are not freebies here. Using the toilet is only possible after the hosts and their guests have settled down for dinner. I had previously chatted with the guests in the garden. Two sisters, their mother and the daughter of one of them have stopped here for the night on the way from the Atlantic to their second holiday home in the Alps. So now the hostess cannot reject my request like she had done two hours before. Pushing my luck I even ask to leave my wet shoes in the entrance area in the hope that they may dry until the morning.
A cracked sardine can helps me make a decision on what to have for dinner: half a baguette with sardines in tomato sauce.