Merci writing on marble in church, France (2014-09)

Walking Home, week 20: One lucky couchsurfer


Day 134 – Rocamadour

Thanks to the busy road next door the night was noisy. There is no way I will stay here another night. I pack and say goodbye to Alix. The Belgian couple in the camper next door agrees to store my luggage so I can visit Rocamadour again.
After my tour I stay for a while by the camper, eat everything the couple offers to me, and drink coffee.
At around three I commence to complete the under two kilometers to the next campsite.
Here on the ferme it is nice and quiet.
After I have paid for the night, I have only € 4.70 left in my wallet.
Next to the sanitary block I find a table with a chair and a wall outlet. A great opportunity to work on my journal.
At dinner in the same place a girl approaches me in German. Her two siblings join in and we chat for a while. My small tent inspires them to invite me to stay in their mother’s ¨spare caravan¨. Although, there was already another guest. But since there were also two beds.
Laughing, I reject the offer, pointing out that their mother would perhaps not be so happy about that generous offer. Now I must go with them to ask the mother myself.
Stephanie indeed happy to meet me, but clarifies that in fact she didn’t own a caravan at all. She and the children were, to the contrary, guests of a friend who works near Rocamadour in a horse and jousting spectacle. Julien is married and understandably also not very excited to share his caravan with me.
But I get invited to red wine and to finish the chocolate pudding with fruits Stephanie has prepared for dinner. Julien invites me to the jousting. I promise to think about it but explain that as long as I didn’t find a working ATM I could not even afford the € 5 due for a night on the farm camping.
As I leave, Stephanie hands me a folded picture the children have drawn for me. When I unfold it, I find € 5 wrapped inside.

Day 135 – to the Village de Gîtes Salignac-Eyvigues

But since it’s raining in the morning, I decide to move on after all. I’ve really had enough of the rain.
In Pinsac I find an ATM. Behind Souillac I continue along small dirt roads. At some point someone has claimed the area North of Dijon is the most sparsely populated in France. Walking here I really doubt that claim.
At the Village de Gîtes Salignac-Eyvigues I hope to find affordable accommodation in a shared room for hikers. But Dominique explains to me that she and her husband would only rent out small cottages. Although during spring and autumn also to hiking groups. But they had no single rooms.
I ask about a meadow for camping.
Dominique inquires what I would usually pay for that.
I think for a moment and reply: ¨Outside of a campground? Nothing.¨
She replies: ¨Then let’s talk again tomorrow morning.¨
A quick word with her husband and Dominique offers me to stay in the family tent that sits unused in the meadow. Because a large tent is better than my little one I enthusiastically accept the offer. Five minutes later I have also received an invitation to take a shower in the couple’s private home next door. Half an hour later Dominique expands the invitation to a dinner.
She tells me that she and her husband started building the village de gîtes a few years ago on a plot belonging to his family. Back then she was a teacher, he was a hairdresser. Bit by bit, the business grew until finally both gave up their learned professions to devote themselves to it full-time. My hostess also reports that they were avid hikers themselves. Tours on foot, by canoe and by bike were among the activities offered to their guests. And their free time was also spent almost exclusively on multi-week hikes in France, Germany or Spain.
I am almost embarrassed to admit that hiking is really not my thing.
When I announce that I am ready to retire to my tent, Dominique extends one more invitation: If I want to I may stay in the spare room in their house.

Day 136 – to the Relais de Chevigny near Bars

Although due to sheer tiredness I have hardly slept, I feel at least a little refreshed after a night in bed.
Dominique packs me a lunch and I am on the way.
The landscape is once again marvellous. It helps that it does not rain.
Only in the evening the day gets complicated. Once more homes are scarce. I try my luck first at a goose farm, which offers space for caravans. But the detour is in vain: The lady turns me away noting that they had no toilets, and suggests that I walk the 6 km back to Montignac, to the campsite.
I am most certainly not turning back.
On the next farm, which excites me because on its pastures I see all sorts of exotic animals such as water buffalo and ancient pigs grazing, all doors are open. But there is no one there.
Google Maps indicates a campsite 5 km in front of me.
One last time I dare a detour when I discover the sign for the Relais de Chevigny.
The relay looks like a little castle. Outside the gate I see a car with Dutch license plates. If this is not a stroke of luck!
It is not: Because nobody answers when I ring the bell.
Looking for another option I find a small farmhouse next door, with another Dutch car parked outside. From inside I hear a conversation. Before I can ring Ankie has already opened the door.
She has bad and even worse and then potentially good news. She is not the owner of the relais . And she cannot accommodate me at her place, because she has guests. But as luck would have it, among them is a good friend of the owner of the relais .
Kees is able to report that the relais is currently rented out to vacationers. But the owner had a caravan, in front of which I might be allowed to set up camp.
A few text messages later Kees shows me my place for the night: Monique has, without knowing me, suggested that I sleep in the caravan.
There is not only electricity and running water, but also WiFi and a beer for me in the fridge. Only the gas stove I do not manage to get working.
Just as I have finished my usual half baguette, this time though with herring in tomato sauce, Ankie brings me a plate of steaming hot curry and invites me to breakfast at her house.

Day 137 – to Perigueux

A second night in a bed and I have slept much better already. After two weeks, in which I have stayed in a different place every night, I am ready for a break. So I’m almost ecstatic when Max, whom I had asked for a place to stay in Périgueux a few days ago on finally replies “Sure.” The musician was on tour and only cane back this morning.
After serving me two cappuccinos and baguette with homemade jam Ankie also gives me a lift in her car.
In Niversac I have just at the train station for a short break when a heavy rain shower convinces me to take the train from here.
I meet Max and his girlfriend Caroline in the parking lot in front of the Cathedral. He carefully conveys to me that for the next three nights I will have his apartment all to myself.
I must be dreaming. And it hardly hurts when I spend first € 20 for drinks at the pub and then € 7 for a kebab at the diner around the corner. I’m on vacation.

Day 138 – Périgueux

As always when I stop in a city, I do the necessary sightseeing. Périgueux makes that particularly easy, since the city provides a map with two routes, one to explore the old Roman district and the other to tour the old town with its cathedral in the Byzantine style.
For dinner, I cook for myself in my small apartment.

Day 139 – Périgueux

The second day of rest belongs – this, too, is now tradition – to the diary. I get up late, wash all my clothes in Max’s washing machine and write the whole afternoon.
Today is my ¨Adopt A Day¨-Day. I will write a short text about this day for a friend’s book. Every day of the year 2014 belongs to another author. The personal stories are juxtaposed to the newspaper headlines of the day. In a year like this, full of wars, plane crashes, unexpected deaths, Ebola and other bad news, a book about mostly hopeful personal experiences of ordinary people might be just the right thing. Although this lazy day today is hardly representative of my overall 2014.
Max comes to pick me up at seven for dinner at Caroline’s new house. They serve me Monbasillac, a regional dessert wine, foie gras , which fortunately does not appeal to me, vegetables and baked chicken with strong cheeses.

Day 140 – to Tocane Saint-Apré

It is time to move on. Just under 700 km of my journey to Biarritz are now left.
I sleep until 8, shower, make coffee, start to pack. Shortly after half past eight Max comes to pick up his instruments and sheet music for his Saxophone. I’m still quite impressed with the idea that one should spend nine years at the conservatory to master this one instrument and, as Max assures me, still constantly learns new tricks.
Two hours later I close the door behind me and hide the key in the mailbox. I’m moving .
Before I quit the city, though, I stop at the ¨SFR Boutique¨ to purchase another month of internet and unlimited calls and SMS in France.
The route takes me from the D689 to the D710, inbetween through the forest.
It is sunny but not too hot.
I reach my goal for the night after less than 25 kilometers: the campground in Tocane.
€ 6.73 for pitch No. 19, a small beach by the river.
For dinner I eat the pack of grated carrots, which I had bought two days ago, with untoasted toast. I’m sitting next to a playground and watch a particularly cute little girl who, with a cream-colored dress and frills on the sandals, a sparkling barrette in her blond curls longingly studies the slide until her father finally takes pity. Suddenly a man with a white German Shepherd whispers next to me: “Ils sont les gens de voyage.” I nod and think nothing of it. Travelers. Some would call them gypsies. Signs at the entrances of some French villages stipulate that the travelers must report to the mayor on arrival.
The man remains silently beside me, until the group commences to move away from the playground. They are parents who now taking their children home for dinner.
Again the man whispers something: “Be careful!”
I look at him quizzically.
He makes a grand gesture: “They steal everything.”
I try to make him understand how wrong he is about that. But his eyes fixed on the receding group, the man is not to be dissuaded from his fear. He only moves on when the travelers have disappeared around a corner.

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