Upside Down Take

Anne-Claire and I have both commented on how backward this trip feels, touring around at the beginning and seeing people and places in Europe before getting down to what we expect will be the hard work of hiking every day for 500 miles.

But our frequent flier tickets worked best to fly into Paris and out of Lisbon, so we’ve made do. When life gives you lemons…

We spent a night with Anne-Claire’s former host family in Aix-en-Provence, about a 20-minute bus ride from the airport in Marseille – that is, the one that we flew into (MSP2). Anne-Claire raves about the meals Amable puts together.

Born in central Spain and raised in southern France, she brings highlights from Castilian and Provencal cooking to every meal, emphasizing fresh ingredients, balance (down to the colors of the food she prepares), and variety. I was surprised to learn that she doesn’t like to eat strong cheeses, but she says she loves buying them because there are so many to choose from.

Her long-time partner Michel is as curious as ever, proudly showing off pictures from a bike trip for a week or so last summer on the Camino de Santiago. He’s hiked the length we’re doing, from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago, twice, and has endless stories about the people he’s met along the way. Once, while he was talking about his time on the Camino, his voice began to crack and he had to wipe his eyes.

That’s one thing I didn’t expect – the importance that people attach to this pilgrimage. As I’ve said earlier, I don’t have a strong spiritual motivation for this hike. I’m here largely for the pleasure of walking a few hundred miles uninterrupted. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at its importance as pilgrims have been making the trek for hundreds of years. I’ll write more on all this later.

From Aix, we rented a car to get to Cahors. I mentioned how expensive it is to drive in France, and this is particularly true if you’re not traveling up one of the spokes of the bicycle wheel of thoroughfares radiating out from Paris but rather trying to hop between them as we were. Private companies have obliged drivers trying to avoid Paris, but at a high cost in tolls. We drove west to Cahors, which took about six-and-a-half hours.

Again, we were visiting one of Anne-Claire’s former host families. We’d spent a few days with Cecile and her daughters at the end of our trip last summer. I had told them I had blogged about our trip, and of course they asked to see it. Forgetting what I’d written, I plugged the address into Google Translate, and – at least in this instance – it provided a particularly good interpretation of what I had written.

As Cecile and her oldest daughter Maylin read it, I sat shifting nervously in my chair – first, because it’s never fun to watch someone read what you’ve written, and second, because I started to remember what I had included about Maylin’s father. It was only a sentence and wasn’t untrue, but it’s never fun to read something negative about your parents.  Maylin wasn’t upset with me, though both she and her mother cried at points, and Cecile gave me a loud kiss on the cheek after she finished.

Though a lot has changed in their lives – Maylin is finishing up her first year at university and set to spend the summer in Spain, and Elora has started high school – the girls and their mother are still as close as before, and we had a wonderful visit.